Episode 15 — Clean Air and Water? Not with Fossil Fuels Around — Death by Fossil — Unintended Consequences — Chapter 7 Part 1
What’s the Fossil Fuel Record? Millions of Air Pollution Deaths each year
Because the carbon industries are heavily subsidised, one might expect them to have exemplary safety and social records, but one would be wrong!
According to the Guardian, 6 Oct 2021 “The IMF found the production and burning of coal, oil and gas was subsidised by USD 5.9tn in 2020” Or USD 11 million a minute every day. This is according to a startling new estimate by the International Monetary Fund. The IMF has noted before that existing fossil fuel subsidies overwhelmingly go to the rich, with the wealthiest 20% of people getting six times as much as the poorest 20% in low and middle-income countries.
IMF found the production and burning of coal, oil and gas was subsidised by USD 5.9tn in 2020, or USD11 per minute. Guardian, 6 Oct 2021
The ash derived from burning coal averages 80,000 pounds per American lifetime. Compare that to two pounds of nuclear “waste” for the same amount of electricity. The world’s 1,200 largest coal-fired plants cause 30,000 premature U.S. deaths every year plus hundreds of thousands of cases of lung and heart diseases.
In 2006, the Sago coal mine disaster killed 12. A few years later, a West Virginia coal mine explosion killed 29. In May 2014, 240 miners died in a Turkish coal mine.
Generating the 20% of U.S. electricity with nuclear power saves our atmosphere from being polluted with 177 million tons of greenhouse gases every year, but despite the increasing consequences of Climate Change and Ocean Acidification, the burning of carbon to make electricity is still rising.
Scientific American, 13 Dec 2007: “Coal-fired plants expel mercury, arsenic, uranium, radon, cyanide and harmful particulates while exposing us to 100 times more radiation than nuclear plants that create no CO2. In fact, coal ash is more radioactive than any emission from any operating nuclear plant.”
In one year, a CO2-free, 1,000 MW nuclear plant creates about 500 cu ft of spent fuel that can be recycled to retrieve useful U-238, reducing its bulk by about 90%. (An average U. S. bathroom is about that size.) In that same year, a 1,000 MW coal plant creates 65,000 tons of CO2 plus enough toxic ash to cover an entire football field to a height of at least 200 feet.
Burning fossil fuels releases significant quantities of carbon dioxide, aggravating climate change. Although it gets less attention these days, combustion also emits volumes of pollutants, which can cause a variety of illnesses. Mark Fischetti
Every year, we store 140 million tons of coal ash in unlined or poorly lined landfills and tailing ponds. In 2008, five million tons of toxic ash burst through a Tennessee berm (see below), destroying homes and fouling lakes and rivers.
Coal-fired power plants leak more toxic pollution into America’s waters than any other industry. (A June, 2013 test found that arsenic levels leaking from unlined coal ash ponds were 300 times the safety level for drinking water.)
And in 2014, North Carolina’s Duke Energy’s plant (now bankrupt) “spilled” 9,000 tons of toxic coal ash sludge into the Dan River. Why do they always say “spilled” — never “gushed?”
Coal companies like to promote their supposedly “clean coal,” which really means “not quite so filthy,” but despite making an attempt at carbon capture and storage (CCS) at a new power plant in Saskatchewan, the plant has been a failure. (Burning fossil fuels causes 4.5 million early deaths per year.)
CO2 removal devices use natural gas or electricity, which is usually generated by burning carbon. The moral hazard of removing CO2 from the air is that it justifies burning fossil fuels.
An electrical plant in Saskatchewan was the great hope for industries that burn coal.
In the first large-scale project of its kind, the plant was equipped with a technology that promised to pluck carbon out of the utility’s exhaust and bury it, transforming coal into a cleaner power source. In the months after opening, the utility and the government declared the project an unqualified success, but the USD 1.1 billion project is now looking like a dream.
Known as SaskPower’s Boundary Dam 3, the project has been plagued by shutdowns, has fallen way short of its emissions targets, and faces an unresolved problem with its core technology. The costs, too, have soared, requiring tens of millions of dollars in new equipment and repairs.
“At the outset, its economics were dubious,” said Cathy Sproule, a member of the legislature who released confidential internal documents about the project. “Now they’re a disaster….”
New York Times by Ian Austen, 29 March 2016, Ottawa
Even modern, 75% efficient coal-burners with thirty-year lifespans can’t compete with nuclear plants that have lifespans of 60 years and provide CO2-free power at 90% efficiency, and the new plants are even safer. In addition, our coal reserves will last 100 years at best. And as we “decarbonize”, we will require increasing amounts of electricity, and the only source of economical CO2-free, 24/7 power must be our new, super-safe, highly efficient nuclear reactors that cannot melt down.
Note: The word “efficiency,” AKA “capacity factor,” in this book means the amount of electricity created over an extended period by wind, solar, etc. compared to their maximum power rating. Unfortunately, the maximum power rating is often used to sell the project. For nuclear reactors, this figure is at least 90%, but it is 33% for windmills and just 19 -22% for pv solar — and solar panel efficiency degrades by 1% per year during their short, 20 year lifespan. (Thermal efficiency is a separate matter.)
When a gas pipeline exploded in 2010 at San Bruno, California, 8 people died, 35 homes were levelled and dozens more were damaged. In 2016, a federal government report stated that natural gas explosions cause heavy property damage, often with deaths, about 180 times per year — that’s every other day.
In 2010, British Petroleum’s Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico “spilled” 200 million gallons of oil and killed 11 workers and 800,000 birds. Prior to that, an explosion at a Texas BP refinery killed fifteen workers. And BP, which was also involved in the Exxon Valdez “spill” in Alaska’s Prince William Sound, is just one of the many oil companies that we subsidise with USD 2.4 billion every year.
“‘Evolution is driven by the tendency of all organisms to expand their habitat and exploit the available resources… Just as bacteria in a Petri dish grow until they have consumed all of the nutrients, and then die in a toxic soup of their own waste.”
Coming up next week, Episode 16 — “Green” Means Everyone Gets Clean Air and Clean Water
Links and References
1. Next Episode — Episode 16 — “Green” Means Everyone Gets Clean Air and Clean Water
2. Previous Episode — Episode 14 — What’s up Doc? Tremors from Fukushima — Unintended Consequences — Chapter 6, Part 2
3. Launching the Unintended Consequences Series
4. Dr. George Erickson on LinkedIn
5. Dr. George Erickson’s Website, Tundracub.com
6. The full pdf version of Unintended Consequences
#UnintendedConsequences #GeorgeErickson #FissionEnergy #NuclearEnergy #FossilFuels #ParticulatePollution #AirPollution #WaterPollution