The Lure of Free Energy

Guest essay by John Popovich

In the 1950s we were assured by the best scientific minds and the U.S. President that nuclear electricity would be of such low cost that it would not make sense to meter it. The Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty granted every country the right to enrich and the nuclear haves promised the nuclear havenots that they would help them develop nuclear electricity to increase their economic well being. It may not be clear what went wrong but it is still very difficult to determine the economics of nuclear electricity and this is in part because the fuel is provided by governments and the price may not be indicative of its cost and because of the hazard and closure costs.

The U.S. government tried to get private industry to process nuclear fuel but had a difficult time finding takers. Union Carbide made an offer that required government guarantees and big upfront cash. Maybe Union Carbide knew something about nuclear fuel processing cost since they were operating a government nuclear fuel processing plant in Tennessee which happened to be the biggest electricity user in the U.S. Other concerns about nuclear electricity cost include the fact that much of the nuclear fuel available today is a result of a scaling back in nuclear weapons by the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. and of course the processing waste and the plant closure cost.

Bill Gates and other smart people are funding research on backyard nuclear power plants. Backyard nukes sound interesting and have a long history. In the late 1940s and early 1950s nuclear power was seen to be an attractive source even at very small scale, including for automobiles and aircraft (NB36, XB70). The world’s most esteemed nuclear physicists pronounced the practicability of nuclear reactors for these purposes, and the U.S. government gave encouragement and big dollars to these efforts. Oil companies were assured this was going to happen and were eager to participate. General Atomics was Gulf and Shell spending big on “Atoms for Peace” and hiring the best scientific minds to insure success.

After the small scale nuke bubble collapsed, nuclear industrial parks became all the rage and it was deemed that big electric users such as aluminum and fertilizer makers would colocate with nuclear power plants and this would result in great cost reductions which would improve our economic well being. It’s not clear what happened.

The Rasmussen report was used to insure us that a Three Mile Island type incident would only happen every 500,000 reactor years. Then there was Chernobyl and Fukushima.

Nuclear power plants use heat from fission to produce steam to operate turbogenerators for electricity production. The 4MeV neutrons produced by fission are rough on materials and greatly increase the plant cost relative to other heat sources. Imagine dealing with the 14Mev neutrons from fusion.

Solar electricity from photovoltaics is said to be free once you pay for the system but the overall cost is greater than the grid supplied cost of fossil fuel generated electricity and this means that to get an equivalent usable amount of electrical energy from photovoltaics more fossil fuel energy is expended in the manufacture, installation, operation, and maintenance and as a consequence more pollutants are generated and our standard of living is reduced.

Photovoltaics are produced with low cost Asian labor and coal fired electricity and installed on the homes of the wealthy in the West, where the wealthy buy the politicians (the poor can’t afford to) who force the utilities to purchase the electricity from the photovoltaic arrays at high rates and pass the costs on to taxpayers and ratepayers, who are the victims of this scheme. It’s a Rolex on the roof with the blessing of sanctimony.

Germany is of course the most egregious offender in that the amount of annual solar radiation in Germany is so low, it really is “Put this where the sun don’t shine” .

Germany tries to create a pretty picture of their energy policy and has largely succeeded in fooling the public and pleasing the Greens. German electric costs have soared and are now more than twice U.S. electric cost and rising fast. The only help is that they are burning more coal. The ruler of Germany may have to please the Greens, buts it’s a fool’s play and will result in great economic harm.

Intermittent/inconsistent energy sources such as solar and wind do not allow a reduction in the number or size of power plants and in fact there is a requirement for rapid response power plants which are much costlier and much less efficient and because they are often idled they have longer payback periods. Solar and wind electric systems also produce shock loads on utility grids which are costly to accommodate. No one wants to be without electricity when the sun is blocked by a cloud.

If photovoltaic electricity were less costly than grid supplied electricity, photovoltaics would be used to make photovoltaics.

Much is forgotten and must be repeated. In the 1970s there was a Solarex Solar Breeder project and it got big government funding and a large number of adherents. Politicians loved the term “Solar Breeder” and were clueless about the economics.

In the 1970s there was a large power tower project in Barstow California called “Solar One”, and after several years it was revealed that the value of the electricity produced was less than the cost of cleaning the mirrors. How could smart people have deemed this a good way to generate electricity? In addition to sand accumulation, the windblown sand caused scratching of the mirrors glass surfaces and necessitated periodic replacement.

Siemens promoted photovoltaics in the late 19th century when they were 1% efficient and steam power plants were 3% efficient. Today photovoltaics are 20% efficient and combined cycle power plants are 60% efficient. Since the grid was much less prevalent in the late 19th century, photovoltaics might have represented a better investment in many areas.

Smart people in government agencies in the 1970s and 1980s funded solar water heaters that cost more in electricity to run the pumps and controls than the potential savings in water heating costs and these people never seemed to have the time or interest to study the situation. The initial cost of these solar water heating systems could be more than 100 times the annual “potential” savings. In Southern California the average home spent ~$80.00/year on natural gas for water heating and the solar water heating systems might save half of this or ~$40.00/year. The government rebate for solar could be $5500.00 for the maximum allowed system cost ($11,000.00) and of course smart people learned to get the maximum rebate on all systems. The active systems required costly maintenance and rarely operated more than a few years.

Smart people in the U.S. government decided to fund corn to ethanol with a cost to the economy of hundreds of billions of dollars. U.S. corn and cellulose to ethanol conversion plants consume large amounts of low cost natural gas and coal fired electricity to produce a fuel for which the federal government generates a market thru mandates.

If corn to ethanol made sense, ethanol would be used to fuel the process.

U.S. government energy experts knew when oil was $2/barrel and synfuels were $8/barrel that synfuels would make economic sense when oil cost $8/barrel and when oil got to $8/barrel they funded synfuels and were surprised that synfuels cost $32/barrel but they were never able to grasp the fact that it required 4 barrels of oil equivalent energy to manufacture a barrel of synfuels with 1 barrel of oil equivalent energy. The significance of this still cannot be grasped. It may be that the current energy secretary can grasp the situation but the purchase of corn state votes is deemed of greater importance. Nothing has to be real; it only has to be sold.

There is a studied unwillingness to see cost as the important metric-money is just a trading unit of energy.

If photovoltaic electricity was less costly than grid supplied electricity, photovoltaics would be used to make photovoltaics.


If corn to ethanol made sense, ethanol would be used to fuel the process.


If cellulose to ethanol made sense, cellulose would be used to fuel the process.

When you try to close the loop things become more obvious. Closing the loop is what might in the vernacular be called a “bullshit detector”. These schemes are adult analogs of the childhood idea of the motor powering the generator powering the motor in that they result in additional energy consumption rather that additional energy production, the difference is that they occur at great economic cost to society. These schemes often exploit price disparities in fuels and require huge subsidies and a studied ignorance to prevail.

It’s somehow very difficult to grasp the fact that a dollar is just a trading unit of energy and productivity is simply a measure of the ratio of human energy expended to useful energy returned.

I believe solar energy can and will be used to provide food, fuel, heat, and fresh water at costs much lower than present solutions, but I believe that this will primarily be accomplished by exploiting biological processes. Farmers have learned to use solar energy profitably; we can learn something from them.

Current photovoltaic systems are often the most economical choice when the cost to connect to the grid is high. Many applications have low power requirements and high grid connection cost. In these instances photovoltaic systems are competing on capital cost. To force taxpayers and ratepayers to support photovoltaic systems in grid connected locations is to waste money and energy. If taxpayer or ratepayer funds are to be used to support solar energy, they should be used where it is most effective and not as currently used. Governments could encourage the development of self-sufficient homes and businesses. We need to develop comprehensive solutions for grid independence. Storage is the “Hard Problem” and rulers are more apt to spend money where they can get votes.

Edison pictured a world with very localized power production where the reject heat from electric power production could be used and in fact Pearl Street, his first installation utilized what today we call combined heat and power (CHP). Independent residences could also benefit from the direct current (DC) provided by photovoltaics, rather than the alternating current (AC) supplied by the grid. The arguments for AC in Edison’s time were that it was easier to change the voltage to current ratio via inductors and long travel distances would be more economical at high voltage to current ratios (not a concern for grid independence or short travel distance), AC did not have to be polarized: now AC circuits have to be polarized, grounded and include ground fault circuit interrupters, and AC motors were more efficient: brushless DC motors now offer very high efficiency and much higher power density. Additional benefits of DC power production include: fundamentally reduced electrocution hazard and lower voltages can be used, many appliances now use DC and must convert grid supplied AC to DC where cost and efficiency of the convertors are significant issues, and there is also a wide range of 12 VDC products available due to its use in automobiles, motor homes, and boats.

It would be nice to think that there is careful study of the economics of energy conversion but it’s not clear where the evidence for that resides, instead there is ample evidence of the lack of careful study. An example that got worldwide attention and considerable funding was Google’s “Renewable Energy Cheaper Than Coal” Initiative (RE<C) and their focus on power towers. Maybe it was studiously forgotten that Solar One, the giant power tower at Barstow CA was found to cost more for mirror cleaning than the value of electricity delivered and yet Google promised to make electricity cheaper than coal in 5 years time and were a big funder in the Ivanpah power tower. Renewable Energy World picked the Ivanpah power tower as its “Project of the Year”. One has to wonder about the economic viability of the other candidates.

The diffuse nature of solar radiation requires that the cost per unit area for any system, including a 100% efficient system must be low.


Academics can be hired to measure all of the energy inputs and outputs and studiously miss the forest for the trees. Terms such as EROI are diversions to make less economic schemes seem more economic. It must be realized that cost is the measure of energy. If a solar energy system results in delivered electricity costs twice as much as a hydrocarbon energy system, it uses twice as much hydrocarbon energy to manufacture, install and operate and therefore is responsible for twice as much pollution. It’s a concept that hard to grasp by those whose income depends on pushing the idea that the expensive energy is cleaner rather than much dirtier.

Productivity is a measure of energy expended to useful energy returned. Money is just a means to effect this transaction. It’s easy to imagine animals hunting or tricking or stealing to get the most energetic foods while minimizing the energy expended. Biologists have documented this in studies of animal energetics e.g. “Bumblebee Economics” by Bernd Heinrich. The life of the bee and of the hive depend on it. It is more difficult to see ourselves in this light, and yet we can imagine that a farmer must get more energy from a crop than the energy invested in the crop and the salesman must consider how much energy he is willing to expend to gain a sale. It’s easy to see when we buy energy more directly at the gas station, it’s more difficult to see when the transaction is less direct but the same phenomena exist. The value of money and of goods and services are manipulated to gain as much energy as possible for the least expenditure of energy.

It seems that the right knows that “alternative energy” isn’t profitable and the left doesn’t realize that it has to be, otherwise more energy is required than returned.

Politicians everywhere have discovered that they can get votes by promising a green energy future. What’s important is votes and they are apt be out of office before the shit hits the fan.


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Politicians everywhere have discovered that they can get votes by promising a green energy future. What’s important is votes and they are apt be out of office before the shit hits the fan.

Like deficit spending. They will not be around when the bills come due. Politicians are famous for taking an animal mentality to issues.


This point is key. In most developed countries they only need a term or two to lock in lifetime benefits and position for board/commission appointments. They are rarely around when the final accounting is done, and even then there are no consequences for incompetence.

Notice the Premier of South Australia, in the awkward position of still being around to witness the fruits of his decision making. All he gets is a little embarassment, then a long and lucrative public funded pension for grinding his State into the ground with wind power insanity.


Smart people in government agencies in the 1970s and 1980s funded solar water heaters that cost more in electricity to run the pumps and controls than the potential savings in water heating costs

Bullshit. I have a solar water heater with an pump consuming 8W. On a sunny day it returns about 2.5kWh of hot water stored in the tank. Compare that to about 6h*8W = 48 Wh . is the pump takes bout 2% of the thermal energy recovered. .

If John Popovich’s “smart people” can’t do as well as something I hacked together in the garage they are not the right “smart people”.

I can only assume that the rest of this article is equally ignorant and worthless.


Remember Greg, you’re comparing the present with the statement about the 1970s and 1980s when power costs were much lower than today. Irrespective, there is still the matter of energy returned over energy invested for the lifetime of a solar HWS and on that score we can find the individual cost pays whereas the true social cost doesn’t and one of the critical factors in assessing true social costs nowadays is the veracity of the CO2 doomsday scenario. That was not a consideration in the 1970s and 1980s.


This is why energy costs needed to ‘necessarily skyrocket’. Because most of the Green scams wouldn’t work with energy cost being cheap.

I can only assume that the rest of this article is equally ignorant and worthless.

That’s not a logical approach, Greg.

By the way, do you consistently apply this strategy of rejecting everything in an article if you find one small error that doesn’t negate or significantly detract from the conclusion? More specifically, do you do that with things that you are otherwise in agreement with–for example, fallacious articles that claim that global warming/climate change is a great existential threat?


It’s not one error, it is meaningless, unverifiable claims that unnamed “smart people” did something about 40 years ago ( give or take a decade ) which is basis of his erroneous claim.

On that basis I do not give any basis to the rest of his similarly vague claims about other “smart people” which are the basis for his other points. He has got a predetermined position which he is trying to prop up with baseless “evidence”. If he had facts, figures and references it would be different. That is why I said it was ignorant.

He may be right on some points but more by accident than sound research.

It’s little more than yet another energy policy rant.

Spot on. All about the moeny, only the people and CO2 emissions are made worse off/worse, by law. The 20 year grandfathering lock-in of subsidies ensures they have a happy comfortable retirement at our avoidable expesne by law after their short and corrupt time in the troughers rule making government. These are greedy selfish people, so obviously in it for themselves, not us..

And pension boosting jobs with renewable companies for the ministers and senior civil servants responsible for the laws. It’s shameless in the UK Yeo, Gummer/Deben, Hendry, Davey and the criminal Huhne, all with well paid jobs leading renewables related businesses, some while still in office, Yeo while chairing the ECC Select Committee.. You can’t make it up, that’s their job. Why they go into politics, to get rich by legalised fraud at the people’s expense, possibly……..


Deficit spending is only a problem when a sovereign government uses bank notes as it currency. (Federal Reserve notes are bank notes). There is no such thing as deficit spending when a sovereign government uses bills of credit (like Lincoln’s greenbacks) as it’s currency.

Bills of credit are essentially circulating tax credits on paper bills. The a sovereign government does not have to borrow or tax to make bills of credit. Note that the federal government does not have to borrow or tax to issue tax credits. It just issues the tax credits to qualified people. It can do the same with bills of credit.

The idea of a sovereign government going bankrupt is nonsense. Tomorrow our government, by fiat, could swap out all $20 trillion in debt, with bills of credit and the government would have no debt. The only problem is that the bankers, who own our government and our politicians, would never allow the government to do what Lincoln had to do to preserve the union.

This is key. The whole CAGW fraud is Bankster prompted, govt & left wing tax-free foundation funded. The aims are: a massive depopulation; deindustrialisation; & the destruction of ALL nations in the quest for a world totalitarian govt.Witness the destruction of countries since 9/11 by US/UK/NATO.

We HAVE to get away from the hugest fraud of fiat money created out of thin air by privately owned banks disguised as part of govt, which lend this imaginary money at interest to said govts, with crooked politicians fully complicit. At 6 cents per $, last I inquired. Two books: Pawns in the Game, William Guy Carr, 1955. The Creature from Jekyll Island, G. Edward Griffin. Griffin’s newsletter is

A good essay on nuclear, & better comments. Thank you all.
I’m not a scientist, but much enjoyed this book by Robert Zubrin, who is a PhD nuclear engineer with 9 patents granted or pending:
Merchants of Despair, radical environmentalists, criminal pseudo-scientists,& the fatal cult of antihumanism

He exposes the inhumane & anti human Malthusian & Darwinist roots of the so-called “Green” movement. & shows how the clean & safe nuclear industry has been demonised & impeded through our fake news media & dishonest political political organisations, amply aided by govt bureaucrats.

John Doran.

privately owned banks disguised as part of govt
it is amazing the number of people in the US that believe the Federal Reserve is an arm of government. It isn’t. The Fed is privately held. The US government cannot create money. The Fed does this either by expanding the funds held on reserve, or by changing the reserve requirements, and the US government pays the Fed 6% annual interest on reserves for this service.

Yes, of a Federally Nationalized Bank. The Fed isn’t private. It is a GSE. It *is* a government agency with “shareholders” to make it look like it is something other than what it is.


Banks do not create money. If they did, they wouldn’t have to carry the loans as a liability on their books.

Actually a government CAN go bankrupt. When it has no control over its currency (see EU). However, normally, you are correct. Like Zimbabwe and Argentina before (and Venezuela now), governments can inflate their way out of debt. Of course that does not help the citizens much as they pay for the problem. Which is what I said at the start.

“Reagan proved that deficits don’t matter.”
— Dick Cheney


Liberals prove that context doesn’t matter.
If you look at the entire quote, you will find out that Cheney was talking about politics.

Where did Dick Cheney get his Economics degree?

PJ wrote:
“Where did Dick Cheney get his Economics degree?”

so now degrees are required for expertise in a subject? good to know….

Try Phil or PhilJ. If that is too much for you to write, try grade school.

And where did you get your degree in Economics?

A very good article, thank you John Popowich.

We have known most of your conclusions for several decades, and yet green activists have conned our politicians into squandering tens of trillions of dollars of scarce global resources in nonsensical green energy schemes, most of which are not green and product little useful energy.

Here are some thoughts from 2002 and 2009. I would edit here and there based on new information, but would not change much.

Regards, Allan

Further on successful predictions:

Europeans are freezing from cold temperatures and the results of incompetent energy policies, since they have relied on intermittent wind power when they really needed fossil fuels or nuclear power to survive.

Here is one of my newspaper articles from 2002. It is a much more accurate indicator of recent climatic events than the IPCC reports, and includes a prediction of global cooling. The global cooling predictions was provided in a phone conversation with paleoclimatologist Tim Patterson, who based his comments on the Gleissberg Cycle. We may or may not be a bit late in this prediction.

My predictions on energy are proving correct. If I were to make any changes, I would be more negative on wind power and corn ethanol than in this article – based on further research on the very low “Substitution Factor” of wind power, and the very low energy efficiency of corn ethanol. In general, I do not support energy technologies that require ongoing operating subsidies, that mask the fact that these technologies are wasteful and uneconomic.

It is deeply regrettable that politicians worldwide have been so badly advised on this critical issue for the survival of our societies.

Best regards, Allan


Kyoto hot air can’t replace fossil fuels
Allan M.R. MacRae
Calgary Herald
September 1, 2002

The Kyoto Accord on climate change is probably the most poorly crafted piece of legislative incompetence in recent times.

First, the science of climate change, the treaty’s fundamental foundation, is not even remotely settled. There is even strong evidence that human activity is not causing serious global warming.

The world has been a lot warmer and cooler in the past, long before we ever started burning fossil fuels. From about 900 to 1300 AD, during the Medieval Warm Period or Medieval Optimum, the Earth was warmer than it is today.

Temperatures are now recovering from the Little Ice Age that occurred from about 1300 to 1900, when the world was significantly cooler. Cold temperatures are known to have caused great misery — crop failures and starvation were common.

Also, Kyoto activists’ wild claims of more extreme weather events in response to global warming are simply unsupported by science. Contrary to pro-Kyoto rhetoric, history confirms that human society does far better in warm periods than in cooler times.

Over the past one thousand years, global temperatures exhibited strong correlation with variations in the sun’s activity. This warming and cooling was certainly not caused by manmade variations in atmospheric CO2, because fossil fuel use was insignificant until the 20th century.

Temperatures in the 20th century also correlate poorly with atmospheric CO2 levels, which increased throughout the century. However, much of the observed warming in the 20th century occurred before 1940, there was cooling from 1940 to 1975 and more warming after 1975. Since 80 per cent of manmade CO2 was produced after 1940, why did much of the warming occur before that time? Also, why did the cooling occur between 1940 and 1975 while CO2 levels were increasing? Again, these warming and cooling trends correlate well with variations in solar activity.

Only since 1975 does warming correlate with increased CO2, but solar activity also increased during this period. This warming has only been measured at the earth’s surface, and satellites have measured little or no warming at altitudes of 1.5 to eight kilometres. This pattern is inconsistent with CO2 being the primary driver for warming.

If solar activity is the main driver of surface temperature rather than CO2, we should begin the next cooling period by 2020 to 2030.

The last big Ice Age, when Canada was covered by a one-kilometre-thick ice sheet, ended only about 10,000 years ago, and another big one could start at any time in the next 5,000 years. Mankind clearly didn’t cause the rise and fall of the last big Ice Age, and we may not have any ability to control the next big one either.

It appears that increased CO2 is only a minor contributor to global warming. Even knowing this is true, some Kyoto advocates have tried to stifle the scientific debate by deliberate misinformation and bullying tactics. They claim to be environmentalists — why do they suppress the truth about environmental science?

Some environmental groups supporting Kyoto also lack transparency in their funding sources and have serious conflicts of interest. Perhaps they are more interested in extorting funds from a frightened public than they are in revealing the truth.

Do they not know or care that Kyoto will actually hurt the global environment by causing energy-intensive industries to move to developing countries, which are exempt from Kyoto emission limits and do not control even the most harmful forms of pollution?

The Canadian government wants to meet its Kyoto targets by paying billions of dollars a year for CO2 credits to the former Soviet Union. For decades, the former Soviet Union has been the world’s greatest waster of energy. Yet it will receive billions in free CO2 credits because of the flawed structure of Kyoto. No possible good can come to the environment by this massive transfer of wealth from Canadians to the former Soviet Union.

Kyoto would be ineffective even if the pro-Kyoto science was correct, reducing projected warming by a mere 0.06 degrees Celsius over the next half-century. Consequently, we would need at least 10 Kyoto’s to stop alleged global warming. This would require a virtual elimination of fossil fuels from our energy system. Environment Canada knows this but doesn’t really want to tell you all the economic bad news just yet.

What would the economic impact of 10 Kyoto’s be? Think in terms of 10 times the devastating impact of the oil crisis of the 1970s (remember high unemployment, stagflation and 20 per cent mortgage rates) or 10 times the impact of Canada’s destructive and wasteful National Energy Program. Be prepared for some huge and unpleasant changes in the way you live.

Fossil fuels (oil, natural gas and coal) account for 87 per cent of the world’s primary energy consumption, with 13 per cent coming from nuclear and hydroelectricity. Is it possible to replace such an enormous quantity of fossil fuels?

Hydrogen is not an answer — it is a clean secondary energy currency like electricity, but it is made from primary energy such as fossil fuels, nuclear or hydro.

Kyoto advocates want expanded renewable energy such as geothermal, wind, and solar power and biomass to provide our future needs. Is this possible?

In 2001, there was a total global installed capacity of eight gigawatts (GW) of geothermal power and 25 GW of wind power. Even assuming the wind blows all the time, this equals only one quarter of one per cent of worldwide primary energy consumption. The contribution of solar electrical power generation is so small as to be inconsequential. To replace fossil fuels, we would need to increase all these renewables by a staggering 33,000 per cent.

Of course, wind doesn’t blow all the time — wind power works best as a small part of an electrical distribution system, where other sources provide the base and peak power. Although wind power has made recent gains, it will probably remain a small contributor to our overall energy needs. A 1,000-megawatt wind farm would cover a land area of 1,036 square kilometres, while the same-size surface coal mine and power plant complex covers about 36 square kilometres. Wind farms cover a much bigger area, are visible for miles due to the height of the towers and kill large numbers of birds.

What about solar? The electricity generated by a photovoltaic solar cell in its entire lifetime does not add up to the energy used to manufacture it, not to mention the requirement for vast areas for solar farms. These solar cells make sense only in limited special applications or in remote locations.

Hydroelectric power is another renewable, but environmental activists don’t want more hydro because it dams rivers.

What about biomass solutions such as ethanol? Canada, the United States and a few other countries may have available crop land for ethanol to partially meet our local needs, but it is clearly not a global solution.

Many developing countries will reject renewable energy due to higher costs, since renewables usually require subsidies to compete with fossil fuels.

Conventional nuclear fission or, someday, fusion are the only two prospects that could conceivably replace fossil fuels. But Kyoto activists hate nuclear.

Conservation is a good solution, but Canada has been improving its energy efficiency for decades, in response to rising energy prices. Significant improvements have been achieved in heating and insulation of homes, automotive mileage and industrial energy efficiency. However, Canadians live in a cold climate and our country is vast. There are practical limits to what we can achieve through energy conservation.

So where will all the energy come from if we eliminate oil, natural gas and coal? Kyoto supporters have provided no practical answers, they just want to ratify this flawed treaty. It would be nice if our energy supply solutions were simple, but they’re not. In the long run, if we implement Kyoto we will have only two choices — destroy our economy and suffer massive job losses and power blackouts, or break the terms of Kyoto, which will be international law.

Instead of Kyoto, a new global anti-pollution initiative should be drafted by people who have a much better understanding of science, industry and the environment. It should focus, not on global warming and CO2, but on real atmospheric pollutants such as SO2, NOx and particulates as well as pollutants in the water and soil — and no country should be exempt.

Then there might be a chance to actually improve the environment, rather than making it worse and wasting billions on the fatally flawed Kyoto Accord.


Allan M.R. MacRae is a professional engineer, investment banker and environmentalist.

Funny how being an engineer allows you to think clearly. Well said. I was trained as an engineer at Judith Curry’s old place. Helps your thinking immensely

Eustace Cranch

A certain pest will be here any minute to tell us “Germany, India, West Fredonia, etc. are investing in it so that proves it works.”

Welcome him. At least he’s prepared to read what sceptics have to say, unlike his brethren.

Tom in Florida

He may read but refuses to comprehend.

Harry Passfield

At least he’s prepared to read…

Which is 33% of the way there. The rest that follows is: mark and learn. No chance.


The question is, does he read past the headline?


He hasn’t been around for a while, kind of miss him, made my life funnier in an annoying kind of way. Did someone here treat him rudely ? or Rud’ely


It’s tag team trolling. He tagged out.


Does it count as a tag team match if they jump out of the ring, change masks, then jump back in. ~¿~


Large-scale solar PV has always come down to dining on someone else’s money for a feel-good cause.

In the US, Elon Musk is the King of the Solar Energy subsidy gravy train. But now that his Solar City energy company has been swallowed by Tesla, the massive PV losses and subsidy-dependancy can be shuffled around and better hidden from investors and regulators, Enron-style.

Solar PV has always made economic sense where connection to grid power was costly or unfeasible and the total demand is low (like small signs on backcountry roads, ocean buoys, or backcountry-wilderness radio relay sites.)

solar energy subsidies are justified as long as fossil fuel companies socialize the cost of their pollution


as long as fossil fuel companies socialize the cost of their pollution

?? Oh, by feeding the world, shipping that food to the “eaters” of that food, cleaning it, preparing it, and storing it with refrigeration and insect-vermin free containers, by providing heat, light, shelter, and medicines?

The world will stop – dead, back to the 7th century world the Islamists and Luddites demand of mass death and an average lifetime of 20- 25 years. Back after killing 4-6 billion. That “social cost” of their “pollution”?


Solar companies also socialise the cost of their pollution.

Look at “transparency” and “toxicity” columns. Two of the worst-rated overall.


There is no social cost to CO2. In fact it’s a net benefit.

Subsidies are NEVER justified. And fossil fuel companies do not socialize their costs. Society does.

Econ 101

Nuclear civilian energy made the wrong reactor choice in 1963, they should have chosen the Molten Salt Reactor for its inherent low-pressure safety; no spending billion for a pressure dome to contain a 1500 atmosphere steam bomb if something goes wrong along with 70-150 atmosphere plumbing with triple redundant cooling and power back-up.


It’s my understanding that the government drove the high pressure decision. Of course when wrong choices are made, in a big way, I expect government experts in the mix.

I remember a Sci-fi story wherein energy-eating aliens (not intelligent, just a wild animal, essentially) discovered Earth and devoured all generated power, knocking us back to pre-electrical times. Government “experts” “taught” farmers how to use animals to plow and harvest. Even as a pre-teen, I marveled at the idea.


James, I think that story was “The Waveries.”

Leonard Lane

Flyoverbob, big grin here, thanks.

NW sage

Government did put their thumb on the decision scale – in a big way. But the reason they did was military. Nuclear energy is SO attractive to the navy – for both surface and submarine use that their first engineering decisions had to be consistent with those goals: small size, high power density, reliability, technological feasibility and total system cost. The choices made have worked well for those objectives but they are not optimum for commercial public power purpose – nor were they ever intended to be.

phil cartier

The government went for the High Pressure Water Cooled reactor for two reasons. They already had built them for submarines and aircraft carriers, and they produced plutonium for bombs that is fairly easy to extract chemically from spent fuel and can be converted into reactor fuel. For some funny reason people were a bit put off by having high pressure nuclear bombs running round the clock in their backyards, so to speak. That required huge investments in making the nuclear industry safe. Safer designs were already being worked on, but the big reactor companies, GE and Westinghouse kind of tied up the market.


Nuclear bombs in their backyard?
Nice of you to prove that you don’t know what you are talking about.

Keith J

MSRs also have material problems. Molten salt is corrosive and erosive. Even tantalum has a finite lifespan in MRS heat exchangers. Still have neutron bombardment and the need for no cobalt contamination as it likes to trap neutrons and become quite hot. Cobalt 60 is a powerful gamma source.

Tsk Tsk

Yeah, not really. Hastelloy-N worked just fine. Fluence through the graphite cores requires maintenance, but it also readily achieved.

MSRs also have material problems.

Molten salt reactor corrosive and erosive are internet myths, and had nothing to do with reasons the MSRE came to an abrupt end.

Cobalt-60 is not made by fission. How does it have anything to do with molten salt reactors? Co-60 is manufactured. See this chart of fission products. the bottom line indicates atomic weight. There are no fission products to speak of with an atomic weight of less than 74, let alone 60!.

It might be instructive for the pro-molten salt reactor group to read the following:


link at

Essentially, there is no alloy that is demonstrated to withstand the conditions of a thorium-powered molten salt reactor for 30 or 40 years; and forget about 60 to 80 years that nuclear advocates love to tout.

The 2nd molten salt reactor didn’t operate until 1965 so they had no evidence to base their decision on. Besides: the liquid sodium fast breeder also ran at close to normal atmospheric pressure. That was the reactor they were nearly all sure of. The molten salt team were also isolated geographically, technologically and politically. The AEC made the mistake of putting all its eggs in one basket in the early 1970s when it defunded molten salt reactors.

To clarify, the Director of the Atomic Commission under President Dwight Eisenhower, Dr. Lewis Strauss, said that some day nuclear fusion (as opposed to fission) would be developed using deuterium and tritium in the fuel cycle and that such fusion power would “be to cheap to meter.” For many, many reasons, and mostly related to scientific experimental research funding, fusion has not yet been proved in a controlled, non weapon environment. To learn more about fusion please see our website devoted to fusion energy science, news, views and politics at:

Well laid out, John. I particularly appreciated this one:

Germany is of course the most egregious offender in that the amount of annual solar radiation in Germany is so low, it really is “Put this where the sun don’t shine” .



I think I first wrote these circa 2009:

The Capacity Factor for land-based wind power is typically ~20-25%, but it is the Substitution Factor that really measures the usefulness of wind power, and that Substitution Factor can be as low as 4% of installed peak capacity.
See Fig. 7 in

That is, for every 100 units of installed wind power capacity, you can replace only 4 units of conventional energy generating capacity.

“Wind Power – It Doesn’t Just Blow, It Sucks!”

Solar power is even worse than wind power, in that solar requires subsidies (paid by the consumer) many times that of wind power.

“Solar Power – Stick It Where the Sun Don’t Shine!”

Einstein governments.

Keep repeating the same old mistakes but expect different outcomes.

solar energy is last option stand still!!!


Sadly, factual arguments based on hard mathematics don’t work on green liberals who can only feel, not think.

They will feel a lot colder in the future,when there are brownouts rolling in.


At which time they will blame the brown/black outs on greedy corporatists who are trying to rip of the electricity consumers. As everyone knows, had they switched to renewables, power would be free by now.

“German electric costs have soared and are now more than twice U.S. electric cost and rising fast. The only help is that they are burning more coal. The ruler of Germany may have to please the Greens, buts it’s a fool’s play and will result in great economic harm.”

Not exactly. No harm for high energy consumption industry, because they get prices subsidized at international level to stay competitive

The poor with low efficiency devices are paying the costs, but wealthy home-owners with PV and investors in wind power get subsidized from them.

Wealth distribution from the poor to the rich.

Somebody tell me about communistic government in Germany…


Herr Herbst

As the wall fell so suddenly other unsustainable policies will surely fall. Keep up the fight.

Tomas aus Ansbach

Tomas, you live in Ansbach, our capital of of Middle Franconia, you lucky guy!

Possibly one of the tiniest capitals of the world…

BTW, now before elections I plan to ask every party in Germany how they will solve that problem of false distribution of money.


No matter what they say, every re-distribution of wealth results in money flowing from those who work, to those who control government.



Immigrated to the USA to become a cowboy many years ago. Still warm feelings to Germany. Best Wishes

Yippe-ay-yeah! Ich wünsch mir einen Kau-hau-boy als Mann… LOL.


Saw this on a greeting card this weekend.

Do old cowboys wear boxers or briefs?


Keith J

Fabian socialism, not communism. As in Merkel and friends know what is best for Germany even if it is Syrian Muslims living on government handouts.

Fabians are true wolves in sheep’s clothing.

Tom Halla

The thing is that devout greens reject economics as such, and want to count benefits they metaphorically pull from their nether regions. They will add in the “environmental cost of carbon”, and not care that the figures for that are mostly imaginary.

I understand your desire to make a point, but the comparison of TMI with Chernobyl and Fukushima is far off the mark.

At TMI, the containment shell worked the way it was supposed to and essentially no radioisotopes escaped the site. Chernobyl was a military design for making bomb fuel (Pu239) converted to civilian use and had no containment shell at all, along with a significantly positive void coefficient (i.e. the power increased when gas bubbles formed in the coolant).

With respect to Fukushima, both tsunamis and earthquakes of that magnitude are unheard of in most of the US outside the West Coast. Admittedly it was not bright to put the emergency generators in the basement for a coastal installation. But an unheralded outcome is that two of the three nuclear plants in the same situation did *not* melt down, in one case due to heroic efforts to bring in emergency power. The number of excess cancers from Fukushima is very likely to be statistically indistinguishable from zero.

In short, most of the “cost” of nuclear power is neither the actual construction nor the cost of fuel, but the cost of unreasoning fear driven by 40 years of propaganda and embodied in fanatic opposition. Right now, gas is cheap, but it won’t be forever. Don’t unthinkingly parrot the greens’ distorted views on nuclear.

Keith J

PWRs use coolant for neutron moderation. Loose coolant and neutrons cannot be captured so fission chain reaction is broken. Chernobyl used graphite as moderator. Loose coolant and graphite vaporizes. Then explodes.

Max Hugoson

Actually Keith, it’s a little more involved than the Moderator/Neutron flux argument. The Chenobyl reactor was specifically designed as a POSITIVE REACTIVITY COEFFICIENT system. Why would one do that? Because you can get 30% more “burn up” from a batch of fuel.

The Russian concept was to rely on sensitive shut down systems, that would “trip” the reactor in the event of a transient that could be hazardous.

The CHIEF electrical engineer of the Russian system (more like a General or Admiral in their system) wanted to run a test, to see how long they could run the turbines off the “sensible heat” in the almost 1000 degree F. graphite pile, With the reactor turned off. Unfortunately, there is a problem common to all “critical assemblies” used to generate power. If you shut them down for more than 3 days, they build up enough Xenon gas in the fuel to poison the reactor for about 2 weeks (natural decay removes that Xeonon).

The PLANT MANAGER didn’t want to be “flat on his can” for 2 weeks. A “compromise” was worked out
with the plant and the Cheif electrical engineer. They’d run the reactor at like 3% power. The neutron flux is enough at this level to continue removing the Xeonon, and you don’t end up Xenon poisoned for 2 weeks.

Unfortunately the reactor becomes less stable, and is likely to produce a transient which will “drop the rods” (to prevent a thing called “prompt critical”.) The Cheif electrical engineer was told this and HE ordered the “jumpering” of the safety system so that it could NOT drop the rods.

Thus the set up for a “prompt critical” transient. It’s really a nice EUPHANISM isn’t it? It really means, “Nuclear Explosion”. Now in terms of contrasting with a boni-fide weapon, the net forces are “minor” in this type of explosion. However, the are strong enough to BLOW OFF 160 Metric Tons of shielding on top of the graphite pile, and to allow air to hit it, and at 1000 degrees F for it to START ON FIRE. Breaking open fuel assemblies (in Zirconium tubes, a refractory metal with a HIGH melting temperture, but subject to cracking given the high thermal contrasts during this fire….Ergo the incredible radio-nuclide emmissions. )

Now why would I know all this? I was the one reponsible at the Utiliy where I worked as Engineer, to read ALL the IEAC reports (International Atomic Energy Commission) and every other reasource I could find. Also to prepare a 70 page plus report, which put everything in a form, which people of “reasonable” technical background and reading ability, could read through in an hour or two…and obtain a decent understanding of the event. LAST that report was sent to all the STATE and REGIONAL regulators and entities to demonstrate the VAST differences between the PWRs we ran and the RMBK Soviet reactors.

John F. Hultquist

Max Hugoson,
Thanks for the explanation.
For a few years we helped a couple that hosted teens via a program called Children of Chernobyl.
[Ours was a very minor role.]
The young folks from Belarus were bright and nice.
I wonder if they know this history.


Max, your description of the accident is missing a number of important things. First, the RBMK had no dedicated shutdown system. The shutdown system and the control rods were one and the same.

Second, the design of the control rods was faulty. From a fully withdrawn position, the rods injected positive reactivity into the RBMK when the rods were dropped. This design failure had already been noted in a fuel failure event at Leningrad 2 in the late 1970s and was hushed up by the reactor designer, the Kurchatov Institute.

Third, there was no nuclear explosion. What there was was a steam blast resulting from the power surge to 100 times rated capacity.

Fourth, the initiating event of the steam explosion was the pressing of the AZ5 scram button that started the insertion of the control rods. Because of the faulty design of the shutdown system, it produced a power surge instead of shutting down the reactor.

Max Hugoson
What you describe plus all the background, e.g. a missing inertial backup system being hushed up 3 years previously in 1983 so that bosses could get bonuses for completion before that year’s May Day parades, can be found in the book “Legacy of Chernobyl” by Georges Medvedev.

Better to read the UNSCEAR report for the mind numbing but less alarming facts than yet Helen Cadicots ad hysterical green technophobes who hate the technology that brings the properity that makes their cosy lives possible..

Perhaps it’s most important to understand WHY you build a reactor without proper commercial reactor atndards of primary and secondary containment that cannot withstand a core accident. Such accidents don’t have the same consequences in a properly contained design, such major radiation releases have never been a problem in truly commercial reactor, and that includes Fukushima, which was not major release and the core was substantially contained..

Chernobyl and Windscale were designed to make weapons grade Pu-239 as efficiently as possible, using shortened time in the core for the specially designed and fuelled rods compared to commercial fuel rods use and life – where they end up too hot to handle and full of nasty stuff that makes Pu-239 separation difficult. The similar approach used at Windscale ended up witha similar core fire accident, thankfully mitigated before an explosion by a great manager, luck and “Cockcroft’s folly” the afterthought chimney yop filter thought a waste of money by the MoD. Perhaps these designs were simply copied by the Russians based on Fuchs spying?

The ease of physical access supports the selective hot insertion and removal of fuel rods by personnel so you can “flash fry” the fuel to ensure you maximise Pu-239 and minimise the subsequent build up of higher atomic weight plutonium isotopes. Optimising Pu-239 output from fuel rods requires the graphite core for this, and other reasons I don’t recall. Whatever, these designs were the best way to maximise yield of weapons grade 239 fast in cold war days, using chemical separation, as centrifuging is otherwise required to lose the unwanted Plutonium isotopes that can’t be chemicaly separated. SIt’s obviously a lot more complex in real [rocess terms, but you get the drift.

Did the US, France and China (and Israel) also have reactors like this for weapons grade Pu-239 production, at Oak Ridge, Savanah, or elsewhere?

[The graphite (highly flammable carbon) moderator core is used to allow a fast neutron flux to hit the U238 to induce fission, and to produce the Pu239 as a by-product. A water-cooled, water moderated, core slows those fast neutrons down, which is needed for the slightly-enriched U235 commercial cores and highly enriched U235 USN cores. .mod]

Yes there’s no doubt that graphite is the best moderator for fission reactors, meaning it is also best for growing Pu. But stories of grossly poor design of the RBMK are not accurate but heavily laced with the need for Russians to be morally and intellectually inferior. Dozens of RBMK reactors have suplied electricity safely for decades throughout Eastern Europe. The Medvedev book is a better source combining technical understanding with inside knowledge of the politics and culture. This can never be matched by an anglosaxon screeching “Russian” in a cacophonous Laandan accent and presuming to understand the system and culture from outside.

This was one of the better articles we have seen here. That was a lot of history and explanation in one short read — thanks for the lesson.

The main take-away for me, is that politicians and most Americans don’t understand real economics. After all, if the idea was viable, there would be no need for subsidies to sell it to the consumer. But with government subsidies, we see people using the most illogical systems — mostly to be “cool” and “progressive”.

Oh well.

Stephen Richards

Not just most Americans. There are quite few economists that do not seem to understand economics.

Roger Knights

“This was one of the better articles we have seen here.”

I agree.

Todd Shipman

Actually, I think it’s one of the worst. Many mistakes, and the premise is faulty. The most egregious mistake is the discussion of nukes and “too cheap to meter”. The point of that phrase wasn’t that nuclear power would be free, just that its marginal cost would be so low you wouldn’t have to charge on a kWh basis. The utility would send you a bill for your share of the total cost of producing it.

The premise that politicians want to provide us with free energy is just not so. They want to control the decisionmaking and decide winners and losers to accrue power to themselves

s/insure us/ensure us/;

actually “assure us” is best.


Show off.


To be more complete:



To be more complete, try this:


Hydro energy is the cheapest way to get energy and it only delays the water a bit getting downstream anyway? No harm to anyone.
Next to that consider this: use wind energy to pump water up into a lake [reservoir] and create hydro energy when you want it at a constant stream, just like hydro energy. No harm done.
Next: use gas. Put more plant food in the air. No harm done.
Next: use oil. Not ideal.
Next: use coal. You have to remove the CO, SO2, SO3 and remember the heavy metals in the ash.
Forget about solar. Won’t work. I put up a simple solar system on my roof to run the office without any interruptions but I got more hassles with it than anything else. Dirt/dust on the panels, failure of batteries, etc. I vaguely remember Anthony putting up a system? How is that working out?
Forget about nuclear: too expensive. The waste is a problem.

Max Hugoson

henryp: Not too expensive, ask FRANCE. (Essentially all standard Westiinghouse design, perfected…105% capacity factor these days (re-rates, longer fuel cycles). And the WASTE is NOT A PROBLEM either. (Ask France, who have “in the mountains” storage of the vitrified high level waste. I know I have to make this punchy and simple, so I will. After 350 years the level of activity of 1 lbm of high level waste is BELOW that of the ore from which it was originally created. (Ergo: Grind it up and distribute it in the environment freely, no harm done.) Can “we” keep it isolated that long? Well, the BONES of Gustavas Adolphus are at the basement of the Gottenburg Cathedral. They have been there 400 years. 35′ down. UNDISTURBED!

Max Hugoson

Sorry, Upsalla! Hey, my last visit was in 1970 when I was 16 years old.

Stephen Richards

France are closing nuclear power in favour of solar panel roads, windmills and roof panels. The gauche want to close 50% of nuclear by 2025. The reason is simple. They have wasted so much money elsewhere in Social security, windmills, solar panels, migrant subsidies that they have no money in the kitty now or in the future for nuclear renewal. Their crap planning has left them with no way out but to make our people pay for their lack of forward planning.

The economy of nuclear has permitted France to be so profligate in other areas .

The waste issue is such a willfully stupid red herring — sorry for the insult to herring . Vitrify it and drop it in an ocean trench . & speaking of half-life , the half-life of arsenic’s toxicity is infinite .

New designs , naturally , are even safer than it’s historically safe record . Seems to me their competitiveness is largely an arbitrage of the costs of transportation of alternative fuels , particularly coal .

so, never mind all the danger- and keep away signs when I approached the ‘cheap’ burial site here [in South Africa], the cost to make a nuclear plant with the current prescribed safety rules is still prohibitive compared to other energy,
:::you have to adapt to the changing circumstances.
Mind you, the plant here in South Africa created a lot of warming of the ocean water, killing all the fish in the surrounding areas…
Go home.
We don’t want your nuclear energy
and I am not even a greeny.
I believe more carbon dioxide is better
since I found there simply is no man made global warming.


henryp, they put warning signs on cups of coffee for crying out loud.
All power plants have warm water outputs, not just nuclear, in fact they all have the same amount if the power output is the same.
If warm water bothers you, then you’d better oppose all forms of energy except wind and solar.


henryp: I drive by a yellow warning sign that has cattle grazing behind it on the way to my cabin (yellow/black radiation symbol). It’s by an old, now reclaimed, uranium mine. The sign is there because a bureaucrat said it has to go there. The science is not necessarily in agreement. However, bureaucrats outrank scientists, even when we are discussing science.

Warning signs are from bureaucrats and personal injury lawsuits in most cases. They make it difficult to know what is really dangerous and what is simply punitive regulations or cover for very dim people who can’t follow instructions.

France are closing nuclear power in favour of solar panel roads, windmills and roof panels.

It’s politics. This is the price Socialists pay for Green support – a wrecked electricity system.

Gunga Din

they put warning signs on cups of coffee for crying out loud.

There might be a warning about nuclear stuff in on of these these…

The only problem with nuclear is people like you. You are not alone – the current millennial generation has lost understanding of what radiation and radioactivity are and how they fit into the natural world. Public understanding of radioactivity and ionising radiation risk is pure mythology. The scientific data – huge volumes of it – are a few mouse clicks away yet no-one bothers to educate themselves about the threshold dose below which radiation risks are either zero or negative – radiation has positive effect on longer lifespan and reduced cancer. Only above a rhreshold where tissue level and blood capillary damage occurs does radiation have a carcinogenic or mutagenic effect. This information is just a couple of mouse clicks away yet 99% of the public discussion of radiation risk is utterly sterile of scientific understanding of actual health effects of ionising radiation in multicellular organisms.

So we live in numinous superstitious dread of ionising radiation in stubborn contradiction of the large and consistent body of scientific data. All the huge safety costs heaped religiously on the nuclear industry are to defend against imaginary hazards.

Just go to google scholar and enter mouse + irradiation + low dose + longevity + carcinogenesis. What you fond might surprise you. It’s called curiosity, which didn’t kill the cat, just educated him.

At mu daughter’s encouragement I’m watching the Netflix original series “The 100”. The scale of ignorance of ionising radiation effects is breathtaking. Get this: by living for 3 generations in an elevated radiation environment, a group of people evolved the ability to “filter radiation out of their bloodstream “. Just think about that sentence for a moment. I can understand how an aluminium filter might filter xrays, but how would blood proteins “filter radiation”? Also you have atmospheric radioactivity still requiring the wearing of gas masks 100 years after a nuclear war. Seriously? – has anyone heard of radioactive decay or the inverse relation between activity and half life? After 100 years of decay you could safely walk into the core od an abandoned nuclear power reactor, let alone countryside lightly dusted with bomb fallout. The media culture are simply wilfully ignorant of the most basic science of radioactivity.

It’s the same as if they believed that a wind turbine would summon up devils from hell, and therefore mandated that a church or a monastery, with paid monks and clergy, be constructed next door to every wind turbine to keep away the demons. Not exactly a level playing field.


Waste a problem? Shocking. I’ve never heard of any. Lots of public scaring, but a problem? All I know is that the “waste” has been stored without problems since time immemorial and can continue to be so till another way is decided upon and implemented. Reprocessing is, of course, better than storing.

Michael darby

Waste? They did a lot of reprocessing at the Hanford site in Washington. They ran uranium reactors and recovered the plutonium from the spent fuel for making bombs(like Fat Man) . Reprocessing creates it’s own unique set of wastes. They’re still trying to clean up the mess there.


Nuclear waste is not a problem. Environmentalists and their pet politicians are the problem.
The solution is re-processing, with a small repository for the small fraction that can’t be reprocessed and will be radioactive for more than a few decades.

Gary Pearse

Mix the waste with millions of tons of mine tailings and backfill the mined out stopes. Just don’t tell greenness.


“Hydro energy is the cheapest way to get energy…”

If hydro is so good, why do the green blob always protest against every attempt to put up a hydro dam? Think Franklin River.


Because the green blob is opposed to the masses having energy of any kind.


Wow. What a great summation of the facts. Reads like a pile driver. Should be run as a paid Op-Ed in every newspaper, TV, and high volume website. Think people. Think. IBMs famous admonition to it’s employees. Our plea to the people.

Anti-civilization AGW driven policies are crumbling now. I have champagne on ice for the day of complete collapse.

Leonard Lane

troe, I agree, this a well written and easy to read post that hammers home many truths. Not everyone can write and summarize so much and make it fun to read.
Thank you John Popovich. Hope to hear from you soon and often.


And once again we see that “free” is not free.

Robert Heinlein said it best:.”There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch.”


Tom Halla

Almost==>it’s TANSTAAFL, all three a’s


You must pay for everything in life in one way or another, there is nothing free. Except the grace of God.


In order to receive the grace of God, you must first believe in His Son.


Ivanpah as project of the year? Ouch. Start the audit and let’s see what that shows.

Max Hugoson

Sorry John, that is a MYTH that someone said, “Nuclear Power will be too cheap to meter.” The full quotation is: “And we will look forward to the day, when we will have an energy source too cheap to meter.” Admiral Lewis Strauss, 1954. his son has written on this and noted that he was obliquely referring to FUSION POWER. Or the source of the energy for the Hydrogen bomb. Although the first test of an H-Bomb was in 1952, there still was a strong “secrecy” aspect of all research work associated with the H-bomb. Eisenhower had insisted on a parallel program of research to achieving a “steady state” fusion plasma for power production. Since the “fuel cost” was estimated to potentially be 1/10 that of fission fuels, it generated an great enthusiasm at the time. Stauss’ son notes that his father regretted the corruption of his reference. And as quite surprised when he saw the headlines, “ATOMIC POWER TO BE TOO CHEAP TO METER”. Ah yes, our specious and technically illiterate “media” has NOT CHANGED MUCH in 60 years!


Sorry John, that is a MYTH that someone said, “Nuclear Power will be too cheap to meter.”

I was there. It was said. I heard it.

Max Hugoson

Really, you were at a meeting in 1954 to hear that? Hum, presuming you were about 22 to 25, that would make you about 85 years old. Wow! Gamecock, glad you are still kicking and using the internet.


I was in Aiken, SC, in 1955. My parents and my neighbors all worked at the Savannah River Plant. Ground Zero of the U.S. nuclear program. The meme of electricity becoming too cheap to meter was common knowledge.


Aaaand it suddenly occurs to me that Gamecock might be a reference to hunting quail or pheasant, and not a video game thing like I originally thought. >¿<

Stephen Richards

I understand that phrase was used at the opening of the first UK nuclear power plant in the 50s.

Determing the cost of nuclear is not difficult and the cost of the uranium is almost negligible – 3/4th of a cent per kilowatt hour. And uranium is so plentifully mined that many companies have stopped operating them and waiting for uranium prices to go up. This article seems unaware of the new nuclear, which he deemed as “backyard” or small scale plants, which is not even remotely the
desirability of the new reactor designs. These molten salt designs are so totally safe and cheap to build that Moltex Energy is claiming under $2 per watt to build, which is, contrary to the article, the giant portion of the cost of current nuclear reactors, running from $6 to $8 per watt to build. Their
fuel costs are also cheap – way less than half that of current reactors, since they can burn nucear wastes, of which we have a plentiful supply. Ot Thorium, which is also dirt cheap. These molten salt reactors will, without any doubt, dominate energy producion in the future, and a very near future at that.

Michael darby

Arthur how can you say “These molten salt designs are so totally safe and cheap to build” when not one has built, and operated? Has Moltex built one yet? PS….you can’t “burn” fission products (wastes.)

Tsk Tsk

Yes, you can.

If you know anything about engineering you can say they can be made to be totally safe. A molten salt reactor was built in the 1960s and operated from 1965 to 1969.

You certainly can “burn” fission products in a molten salt fast reactor. Because every transuranic isotope fissions in the fast neutron spectrum – even uranium-238. Fission waste is ~ 94% uranium-238, 4% fission products (and decay ‘daughters’), ~ 2% others (U-235, U-236, Pu-239, Pu-240, …). The fission products and daughters must be removed. The rest (96% of it) is good fast reactor fuel.


Interesting treatise on energy policy for votes. It is the appearance of doing something good rather than the cost/results that appears to count, worldwide. This will all go away when the climate turns cold, for good. An ice age will not support the world population without huge changes in energy production and use. And, it will come – and it is overdue. Actually, the failure to plan for such a change will cost, probably, half the human population, much food production, and thus livestock production. Many will starve, as we are most likely past the ‘carrying capacity’ of the planet for our species under the current energy production and use methods.
It is too bad that hydrogen energy was not included in this treatise. Hydrogen production requires water and electricity, and can be performed by any renewable source, such as solar, wind, tide, etc. Small nuclear reactors could produce hydrogen for eons of ice age, even using generated heat to melt ice.
It can be produced for single dwellings and groups of dwellings. It can work on seawater. It can work on grey water. Municipal sewage treatment could create massive amounts of hydrogen, not just from the sewage, but from the water in it, which is the bulk of the liquid (other than on superbowl day). In fact, all grey water could be used at point of production, instead of piping it to treatment plants. Garbage trucks could take the dewatered results to landfills, instead of using pipes to drain it to remote treatment sites. Runoff from storms could be used to produce hydrogen. There are limitless opportunities to convert water to hydrogen and oxygen, and it need not be drinking water.
Yes, there are difficulties in storing hydrogen and utilizing it. But, it can power vehicles, dwellings, offices, businesses, and, of course is the most abundant energy source we have. Talk about renewable – what is more abundant than water, if you count the oceans?
It could even be used for water purification, by extracting the hydrogen from ‘dirty’ water, then recombining it with oxygen.
Hydrogen provides more energy density than any other known fuel except nuclear/atomic. Almost 3 times that of natural gas, which is second. Why on earth have the scientific/political systems not seized on this remarkable energy source which provides virtually all the good sides of energy production, with literally none of the bad byproducts? No more wells, no more oil drilling, no more fracking, no more particulate air pollution, no more coal mines and transport.
For those that consider this too hard to master, consider what it takes to manage the piecemeal approach we have already created.


John, the problem is Hydrogen as you described it isn’t an energy source. It’s only a energy storage medium. You only get as much energy out of the Hydrogen as you used to Crack it from the water in the first place (actual, less. Some is wasted in the process).

And frankly, it isn’t a very GOOD storage medium. What you gloss over as ‘difficulties in storing hydrogen and utilizing it’ is in truth a highly explosive lighter then air gas that is capable over time of defusing through any know material. To store it at a even remotely useful density requires cryogenic storage tanks, which themselves require a constant supply of electricity. And to get the energy back out of it you have to either burn it or convert it in a fuel cell, both of which also result in some loss of energy as waste heat. Although a clever design might make use of that waste heat, for instance by using it to help bring your cryogenically cooled hydrogen back up to room temperature so you CAN use it. Or did you think your average fuel cell could run on liquid Hydrogen?

I’m not sure where you got that Hydrogen has 3 times the energy density of natural gas, or that those 2 are the highest. Perhaps you are confusing Specific Energy (energy per kg) with Energy Density (energy per liter).

When measured by volume, as you have to if you are planing on storing it as a fuel, then even liquid Hydrogen doesn’t come close to the energy density of plain old gasoline. Much less anthracite coal.

And frankly, I’m not seeing any benefit in all this playing with Hydrogen. Any place that could set up the infrastructure to make, store, and use Hydrogen could just as easily use the electricity as it is. Even as a potential fuel for transportation it simply doesn’t measure up.

Maybe one day, when most of our electricity comes from Fission, Fusion, or something more exotic, then it will make sense to create Hydrogen for fuel for vehicles that can’t carry their own power plant… assuming we haven’t come up with rechargeable power cells that are better by then… or just synthesize gasoline from water and CO2.


The U.S. is totally missing the Boat on Next Generation Nuclear Power, Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor Technology, Cleaner, Safer, Cheaper. It can also use existing Nuclear waste as fuel. India and China are ahead of the U.S. on this one.


Reminds me of the laws of thermodynamics:

1. You can’t win.
2. You can’t get ahead.
3. You have to play.

Leonard Lane

Yes, SMC, and of the engineering students’ dilemma. “Constants aren’t and variables wont.”


It’s more like:
1. You can’t win.
2. You can’t quit
3. You can’t save the game.


I do think utility scale and community scale solar can win. That requires knowledge of the ongoing cost plunge in panels, BOS costs, and regulatory education without utility vested interest and lobbying in the way. (Most people don’t have that knowledge and never will if they keep looking at averages of a mostly subsidized industry and perpetual pilot project-PPP mentality govt. policy.) Battery storage may take some time but the cost declines are starting. In five years time the also rans in solar will be wiped away, wind will be done after exhausting tax credits, and nuclear will be an even more faded memory. Coal will be around in the remaining portfolio of competitive assets after closures but subject to the next election and the pace of undermining efforts. Natural gas will still be the winner but not for all cases and locations. It also requires a straight edge mentality of price cycles gone for good, somewhat like recessions a thing of the past. That’s not how utility planning is done, but who knows with energy populism like in Calif.


When solar can compete with everything else without government paying 3/4ths of the cost, let me know.


The other 1/4th is waiting to clear out the undergrowth and bring some sense and order to the industry without govt. demonstration projects for the benefit of the politically connected.


you have energy down cold. Do utility solar numbers work without regulatory interference of any kind. RFS etc.


The time line is two years, but again all but a few analysts are not watching that closely on the cost and margin metrics. Its made more difficult by current overcapacity and zombie companies in China. The main unknown is when all the noncompetitive players move on and out. That’s like small businesses waiting for their inferior but breathing competitors to expire. My guess is that the roll forward steamroller of ultra low cost output after several years of huge price weakness from overcapacity like a lot of other Chinese overcapacity industries will be the one-two punch to weed out the industry. ITC won’t matter to these winners at that point.


Read somewhere (Analog??) that the laws of thermodynamics are:

You can’t win.
You can’t break even.
You can’t get out of the game.

(and There is a game)

Greetings Mr. Popovich
Interesting analysis, ‘there’s no such thing as a free lunch’. In my old neck of the woods (I left some decades ago) the ‘hydro energy’ is the main source of electricity.

“It seems that the right knows that “alternative energy” isn’t profitable and the left doesn’t realize that it has to be”

I think the left knows it too, but they don’t advertise fact that their ‘lunacy of green energy subsidy’ should be supported by the additional lunacy of the wealth distribution through taxation or ruining profitability of rest of economy, or both.


John Popovich:

All energy is free: it was all created at the Big Bang and cannot be destroyed.

But collecting energy into concentrations sufficient to do useful work is expensive.

Fortunately, nature has done much collection for us and has stored the collected energy as fossil fuels and radioactive materials.

Everything else is economics.



And politics. We could build nuclear reactors for less than a billion dollars . . . if we had to. It is our decadence that allows us not to.

There’s more to the energy picture than electricity, unless you plan on electrifying the entire transportation sector.


more or less that is the big plan. Cant see it for a very long time unless we want to cut living standards to the bone. Literally the bone age.


We shouldn’t be looking at “alternative energy”

We should be looking at “ APPROPRIATE energy”

& keep politicians out of it… (in fact keep politicians grubby fingers out of anything to do with infrastructure & security).


Surveyors, military types, and engineers did (do) a decent job of providing direction for the country. Bankers screwed things up a little, so to fix things politicians step in and shit on everyone.


Bankers, trying to follow the directions of the politicians, screwed things up a little.


“We should be looking at “ APPROPRIATE energy””

Here we have a problem, because greens run the government in most western governments. If they don’t have government in their own right, they have the balance of power. In those few places they don’t have the balance of power, they force the language of the argument in ways that mean they win.

So, the problem with green thinking, is that they don’t think it’s a problem if the power goes out. Look at the change of government in South Australia when they had that state-wide power failure. Didn’t happen, because it suited the greens that actually control the state.

Major power failures will happen in Victoria without the power generation from Hazelwood when the get into summer with exactly the same lack of consequences for the government. It will also cause another state-wide power failure in SA, but what do the greens care about them?


Very informing article….in many regards.
In my opinion is one that should be considered very seriously…

But said all this, in the prospect of me not misunderstanding a given particular point….I have to say…that regardless of pros and cons when comparing the AC to DC current….as far as I can tell…in production and making of energy DC can not compete at all with AC, regardless of any scenario or idea…

When pros for DC may somehow make a case for it, the simple natural truth as for the moment is that while DC very cost efficient in it’s usage due to transformation, the DC current as per production and making of energy is a very big handicap when compared to AC.

When considering that no else in Universe can create or destroy energy, the only way to transform energy in means of production and making, in electricity, the AC is the main workable and sufficient main method, while in the same time the DC method is not even any where close to it for even the slightest comparison.

To consider that DC can overtake the AC in the transforming-production-making method of energy, one has to consider the very transforming of reality, nature, and Universe, in its own basics and laws…….at least as far as the reality , knowledge and experience does allow up to the present state of our civilization and human knowledge….and the reality up to now.

But still contemplating and venturing in it, can make some very very reach and wealthy- healthy with no regards to any thing else involved…..


Bruce Cobb

Mmmm…That’s some tasty word salad right there. Could use some dressing though.

Brett Keane

Is whiten a bot, after all?


I saw an article recently that claimed that the cost of solar power had now gone negative! I didn’t bother reading it, but obviously we can now relax, power is not only free, it provides cash too.

Green fantasies are truly fantastic!


When you add together all of the subsidies, this could easily be true.


I actually went and found it and read it. Apparently this has happened in Germany, California and South Australia: they produce too much renewable power when nobody wants it, so have to pay people to take it! Amazing stuff, renewable energy, none of it around when we need it, too so much about when we don’t, they have to pay you to take it away. Sounds like mangoes round our way 🙂

I swear I’m not making this up, google “negative cost of solar power”.

Kalifornia Kook

Well done, Mr. Popovich! Covered a lot of ground about as concisely as possible. Should be [resented before the House Science Committee.

Steve Case

Fuel for transportation – South Africa makes synfuel from coal – wasn’t mentioned. I think oil should be reserved for petrochemicals.

I like the idea of solar photovoltaic powered residential communities. Pricey to be sure, has it’s limitations, and YOU have to maintain it, but combined with cell phones, “we” get rid of all the ugly “telephone” poles and no more outages from electrical and wind storms unless it hits your joint.

Windmills are ugly and dumb. The Texas panhandle, never a beauty spot, is really ugly now.

I think there were some exaggerations about the capital costs of producing solar, wind and methanol systems.

Other than that, spot on.


Even in the best locations, you can’t put enough PV’s on your roof to power your house.
You’d still need the power poles.
PS: How you gonna get cable to your house?

Michael darby

How you gonna get cable to your house?
Dish Network


But only when it isn’t raining or the wind blowing to hard.
For me, cable includes internet, including high upload speeds which I need when doing work at home.

Steve Case

Directional underground drilling machines. Natural gas, water and cable comes underground. It’s being done lots of places, but not for high voltage transmission. Telephone poles should largely go the way of the dodo bird – at least for residential. Industry & commerce is still gonna need lots of juice, and windmills and roof top solar aren’t ever going to do the job.


At the depth these things run, it’s cheaper to just dig a trench and drop the pipes and conduits into it.

Bruce Cobb

Oil doesn’t need to be “reserved” for anything. We don’t need government dictating what oil is used for. That is what the free market is for. And sorry, but solar powered residential communities is nothing but a pipe dream, and an expensive one at that. People who like “green” energy have no conception about cost. They don’t seem to care. It is all part of their cognitive dissonance.

You need to go fight the oil wars then. Or send your kids.


What oil wars?

Kalifornia Kook

Should be *presented*, but of course, a lot of them would resent it.


It’s hard to build an economical power plant when you have to redesign two or three times before construction is completed.

J Mac

An excellent treatise on energy economics.
Thank You, John!
J Mac


In my very humble opinion I can’t see the currant renewables ever gaining much of a foothold and never would have without the CO2 hysteria. As the truth emerges from the propaganda and the non problem of anthropogenic Global warming is exposed, wind and solar will fall back to the niche markets they can compete in. The real energy revolution is in new technology and is not that far out. Brilliant Light power expects a prototype this year ( Lawrenceville Plasma Physics is making good gains on their Focus Fusion project (, and several fronts are showing promise in the LENR field. If any of these make it to the market the wind mills and solar farms will be in need of reclamation.


Correct about LPPFusion. Their reactor is an aneutronic process (no radioactive waste or components) and involves direct generation of electricity by induction transformers (ie no generators or turbines)… that reduces the projected wholesale costs of electricity to about .5 cents a kWH instead of the current US average of $.12.. This is a near term (5 year implementation project)

The company is completely transparent and publishes in peer reviewed journals… Currently LPPFusion is ranked between #1 and #5 in the world for meeting fusion breakeven… but competitors have all peaked while LPPFusion will be loading final components and the ultimate fuel, pB11 , starting this summer. The reactors are incredibly compact and are designed to generate 5 MW each. Funding has been tight because the founder Eric Lerner will only license on terms that ensure that the electric power from his reactor remains ultra-cheap. Reactors like this can displace virtually all fossil fuel applications for heat, electricity and propulsion.

The latest educational videos can be found at

Note that if you subtract the cost of regulations, delays, courts, etcetera, etcetera, ad nauseum from nuclear or fossil fuel power plants – they are far cheaper to operate.

Add the same costs as nuclear or fossil fuel plants to wind, solar, biofuels – they are an even worse deal.

This is even without considering subsidies to the worthless sources, which actually push them into a net negative expense (aka, profit) from government action.


In my part of the country we have shuttered nuclear plants including fusion from the Howard Baker- never met an atom he didn’t like-era

This is the genius behind the 1990 Clean Air regulations that John Beale received a gold medal for. Not against nuclear but have seen promises that didn’t come true resulting in 30 years of bond payments for nothing. WUWT should establish “The Ring” allowing proponents of different energy sources to battle it out.


Including fusion??????

Pretty good way to discredit yourself.


Solar electricity from photovoltaics is said to be free once you pay for the system but the overall cost is greater than the grid supplied cost of fossil fuel generated electricity and this means that to get an equivalent usable amount of electrical energy from photovoltaics more fossil fuel energy is expended in the manufacture, installation, operation, and maintenance and as a consequence more pollutants are generated and our standard of living is reduced.

Is the above statement true?
I had thought solar had progressed to the point where the panels where energy positive.
I’m watching a thread on another forum about the same topic and would like to respond but not sure what the real story is.


The making of the panels may or may not be energy positive. However you also have to account for everything else that is needed to build up a solar power facility. There’s also the cost of recycling the panels when they reach the end of their useful lives.


Make me think about the solar heat exchanger I had on my roof in FL. In a good day it might increase the temperature in my pool by 2C, then if I forgot to turn the flow off for the night, the temperature would be down by 4C the day after.
And it reduced the life of the roof shingles by several years, cost me 15k to replace!

Got a heath pump now, but I guess I should feel bad about that, and who really needs a pool!

Mike Williams

“…the fact that much of the nuclear fuel available today is a result of a scaling back in nuclear weapons by the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. …”

I call BS on this statement…the output of Canada’s and Australia’s uranium mines can’t be used for weapons (by law/edict) so the supply is entirely driven by the demand of the nuclear power industry. And fwiw Canada has lots of untapped reserves of Uranium.


Uranium that had already been mined assuming a certain level of demand, still exists, even if the demand suddenly drops.
I’ve also read that when nuclear weapons were decommissioned, the highly enriched cores were diluted down the the lower levels needed for power plants and made available to power plants.

Tsk Tsk

Good call. It is BS.

Mike Williams

A quick look at global Uranium production data shows his claim to be utter BS. It is now dominated by Kazakhstan who produces 50% more than Canada (#2) and Australia (#3) combined. Their production increase represents the entire global increase since 2004…it increased 6-fold long after the SALT/START treaties kicked in so it was not weapons driven.



Why can’t the output of those mines be used for weapons? Is it technical or policy.

Mike Williams

In Canada’s case, back in the 60’s Lester B Pearson (PM at the time) banned the sale for use in weapons. The US sourced its weapons from African uranium and later on a US mine (I believe they also experimented with extracting it from sea water).


my bad. Should have read more carefully. Doesn’t it still impact overall supply/price.

Mike Williams

Price yes…but read his statement…he implies supply was driven by demand for weapons which isn’t true when major suppliers weren’t serving that market (for Canada that was 50 years of supplying solely the power, medical, etc. industries).


Seems that greenies want to add in the “social cost” of carbon-based fuels to up the ante against renewable sources, since there’s no way to square the economic benefit of RE vs. fossil fuels. In other words, change the equation to win the game.

Chris Hanley

Gore Gored (via Tim Blair):


Good post. Al Gore is a colossal douche. I known him as a 6th District citizen since 1975. Take my word on it.


Magical solutions have always had appeal. A miracle weight-loss system, the cure for cancer, a perfect sleeping pill, free energy for your home, X-ray specs, etc. Heck if there were a simple solution to all my problems, I’m sure I’d be interested. But I’m old enough to be a crotchety skeptic, and I can smell a con job.

Leonard Lane

PaulH. I know a sure fire way to make a small fortune. Take a large fortune to the casino. And, there is no magic about it. Governed by the laws of probability and the house always has an advantage via giving themselves the higher probabilities.


Cost and Price, while similar, are completely different.
The Cost of energy production and the Price of energy produced, varies, by necessity by the means to produce it.
Here in NZ, we have the majority of power produced by hydro and therefore the ‘cost’ would have been high initially, and the impact upon the country, equally high. Some even felt that this so called clean energy, shouldn’t even be had by way of hydro storage and there was a (successful) protest to ‘ban the dam’.

Nuclear here in NZ, is un-touchable…and I have to accept that, but have been swayed to look again at this power source.
The Molten Salts style reactors as promoted by Kirk Sorenson, is at the top of the list.
Here is a source where the Cost to produce the system is high, but the Price of the energy once the reactor is built, is negligible…so the energy consumed should be cheap….very cheap.
The material used for fuel is/could be the by product ie, read..waste, of other industrial processes.
The same can NOT be said for the current fuel for nuclear reactor sourced energy.

Low/no fuel cost for a MSR energy source = cheap energy/power.

Sadly, the chances of NZ having ANY nuclear source of energy, is the same as the CAGW crowd rolling over and giving up their views about CO2.


Gary Pearse

Fukushima and Chernobyl are the poorest, examples to choose. Nobody died from radiation in the first, and 85% of all people who died died at Chernobyl. Only one person died in the French nuke system, possibly from a forklift accident. The cost for nuclear is grandly inflated because of activist hysteria. 4kto 5k workers annually perished in China’s coal mines up until recently. Radiation at Hiroshima declined to natural background within a year of the bomb. There is tons more of this story out there.

Crispin in Waterloo but really in Potchefstroom

“If photovoltaic electricity was less costly than grid supplied electricity, photovoltaics would be used to make photovoltaics.”

One line is missing here: If wind powered electricity was cheaper then grid electricity from hydro, nuclear and coal-fueled, the wind turbines would be made using power from wind turbines.

Obviously they are not. If they were, they would cost at least twice as much as now, probably 4 times as much, based on my own calculations.

Energy is literally money. Less taxes and profit, the price on a turbine is entirely energy in stored or delivered form. The fact that production becomes more efficient with time doesn’t abrogate this fundamental principle. Raise the price of energy and the price of everything rises.


How many times have people died in fossil fuel plants because somebody failed to do sufficient amounts of maintenance?
Accidents happen. The world is full of humans and few of them are perfect.
The over all safety record for nuclear is as good or better than all other forms of power.