Friday, January 27, 2006

Nuclear Waste - If not in my back yard, then whose?

I share a visceral sense of unease whenever the phrase "nuclear waste" rears its head, since the term rings-in the implicit question of "where is it to go?" There have been various proposed scenarios, some of which are now considered impractical, others plain daft. For example, loading up a rocket with nuclear waste and firing it into the Sun (or into deep space - a gift from Earthlings to any extraterrestrials who might get in the way of it - or into a "stable orbit"...somewhere...from where it might come home again, some day). Firing it into the Sun is not such a bad idea, actually, until you think of what might happen if the vessel blew-up in mid-air - like the Space Shuttle did - and scattered its cargo among the four winds of the Earth. It would be a leviathan "dirty bomb", probably contaminating the entire planet.
One of the other more sentient suggestions, as I recall, was disposal via subduction zones - almost a supplication that Nature draws within herself what she has created, by placing our nuclear "offerings" on a geologic plate that is drawn under another on the ocean bed, and hence restored into the fire of the planet's interior, deep in the mantle which is in any case, at least partly fueled by the decay of radioactive elements. Given that geology does not operate exactly in this way, the idea is doomed. However, some of the more diehard protagonists insist that holes might be drilled into the descending plate which would be covered by the supra-bearing rock once sufficient millennia had elapsed. It is more probable that the molten magma that drives the plates of the Earth would be extruded upwardly through the weakened boreholes once they were drilled, casting back the radioactive detritus of our actions.
Other suggestions include disposing of waste under ice-sheets. Since high level waste (HLW; fuel rods and the like) produces heat, it could be simply allowed to melt its way a couple of miles through the Antarctic until it come to rest on the bedrock. A "recoverable" method holds the waste tanks with chains so it could be brought back to the surface once the more radioactive elements have decayed. After about 300 years, the more radioactive elements such as caesium and strontium will have decayed such that the level of radiation from it will be closer to that of natural uranium, and hence easier for final disposal. In a similar strategy, a "phased" disposal is now being considered, where the waste is kept initially closer to the surface for 300 years, and what remains is then disposed of in geological formations. This would also leave scope that the uranium fuel could be made available for reprocessing, if the availability of nuclear fuel were ever to become compromised.
Otherwise, the high level waste could simply be dropped into a deep (3 - 5 km) borehole. In Russia, a "direct injection" method is used, where liquid waste is pumped into geological reservoirs deep underground, where it is assumed that it will remain trapped. Another way to get rid of nuclear waste could be to buy it on to another country willing to take it for hard cash, in e.g. the former U.S.S.R. and Africa, but fears of it not being properly handled causing detriment to local populations, or that it might wind up in the hands of terrorists make this option unpopular. It appears that a, probably phased, geological disposal will be the method of choice in the U.K., since these islands have the correct geological structures to contain the waste within specially bored repositories. There is often a scare-story told that "Britain has 2.3 million cubic metres of nuclear waste stored around the country" (e.g. on the front page of "The Independent", Thursday January 24th) - "more than enough to fill the Albert Hall five times" - and while this is true, the vast bulk of this is low level waste, which carries only weak radioactivity, sometimes no more than the background level; the volume of high level waste occupies just under 2,000 cubic metres, most of it from Sellafield.
It is the latter that is the main problem, however, since although HLW constitutes only around 0.1% of the total volume of nuclear waste, it contains 94% of the total radioactivity. Research is ongoing as to what physical form it might be stored in. Nirex, as agreed by Defra/DTI has been given the mission to develop and advise on safe, environmentally sound and publicly acceptable options for the long term management of radioactive materials in the U.K. I attended a meeting at the Geological Society on January 9th, entitled: "Geosciences and the Long Term Management of Radioactive Wastes", from which a likely scenario emerged of a "Phased Geological Repository Concept" which allows a balance between long term storage and allowing future generations to do something else with it! Perhaps they would reprocess it for nuclear fuel or weapons, or put it down a deep borehole or somewhere else; who knows what they might decide? I often wonder what language any signs might be written in to alert those living as to the presence of a nuclear repository - English in the U.K.? - but will our by then equivalent of Shakespearean English be clear to those living hundreds of years from now, or even thousands?
The essential idea of form, is that HLW from nuclear fuel will be encased in a copper container, held within a structure of bentonite clay, and then stored in a deep rock depository. Copper is the metal of choice since stainless steel is prone to corrosion over long timescales. It is thought that 90% of the radioactivity will remain within the package, providing both retention and retardation such that only <1% of the total could ever escape into the geosphere. The figures given for the volume of nuclear waste refer only to the current levels, which will inevitably be increased by the government's plan to proliferate the nuclear industry and electricity production from nuclear power. One might argue that it would be more appropriate to get underway with disposing of the existing waste (an at estimated cost of £85 billion) before making more of it.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Armenian Zeolites and Nuclear Power.

Zeolites are listed among Armenia's more important mineral resources, and it is estimated that the country contains around 500 million tonnes of them. Armenia is a small, land-locked territory, fenced-in by Turkey to the west, Georgia to the north, Iran at the south and, most contentiously there lies an eastern frontier with Azerbaijan. The two countries have been at war over the disputed territory of Nagorno Karabakh (which means "Mountainous Black Garden", in description of its mountain landscape and the fertility of its soil), and while a ceasefire was declared about a decade ago, an uneasy peace remains. Nagorno Karabakh is situated in Azerbaijan, but is mainly populated by Armenians, and this has caused territorial angst between the two nations. Armenia has little indigenous fuel resources, and it is accordingly dependent on external supplies to meet its energy requirements. Azerbaijan is abundant in oil and gas from the Caspian Sea regions where its capital and main port Baku is located, but since the advent of the Karabakh conflict, it no longer supplies any fuel into Armenia. Gas pipelines exist from Georgia, but since these are regularly blown-up by various factions the supply is unstable. The border with Turkey also remains closed, ostensibly awaiting a final acknowledgement and resolution of the facts of the Armenian genocide. The southern border with Iran permits traffic between the two countries - one having signed-up to Christianity and the other, Islam.
The major provider of electricity in Armenia is the nuclear power plant (NPP) located on the edge of the town Metsamor, and about half way between the capital Yerevan and the Turkish border, which remains guarded on the Armenian side by Russian soldiers, against the backdrop of Mount Ararat - a huge double mountain whose main summit reaches beyond an altitude of 16,000 feet. Metsamor is contentious, in part because the NPP is located on an earthquake fault line. Consequently, neighboring countries - even as far away as Austria - have each voiced their concerns as to the safety of keeping the Armenian NPP operational. Efforts have been made by the European Union to persuade the Armenian government on this matter in the form of both a carrot and a stick: the latter is that the EU is withholding 120 million Euros in aid until the NPP is closed, but this is sweetened by the promise of an additional 100 million Euros to assist the Armenians in developing renewable sources of energy.
The enriched uranium fuel for the NPP is flown in to Metsamor from Russia, and although a nominal charge for this appears on paper at around $20 million, the Russians and Armenians seem to settle-up according to a kind of barter system, where e.g. Armenian craftsmen cut diamonds for the Russians in return for nuclear fuel. To simply close Metsamor is not a practical proposition. When a severe earthquake did strike northern Armenia in 1988, with the loss of more than 25,000 lives amid widespread devastation, it was decided to suspend operation of both reactors at Metsamor. The result of this action was an ecological calamity. The main fresh-water lake in Armenia, Lake Sevan, was substantially drained to provide hydro-electric power, in the absence of nuclear. Then the winter of 1994/95 fell particularly hard, and so the forests were devastated - chopped down for firewood. Such was the extent of the ecological impact that even some environmentalists called for the reactivation of the NPP, and in early 1995 one of the reactors was started up again to generate 40% of the entire nation's electricity, as it still does.
Since the break-up of the former U.S.S.R., Armenia has suffered financially. There is a statistic that half of all Armenians live on less than $2 a day, and a good measure of this downturn is the loss of trade within the former state collective. The population of Armenia currently stands at less than 3 million, since almost a million and a half have left the country since 1990, for better paid jobs in the West and in Moscow. It is usual that these emigres send money home to support the family that remains there.
Undoubtedly, the Metsamor NPP will close, eventually - as all nuclear power plants must, including those currently operating in the U.K., by 2050. Beyond a certain age an NPP is no longer safe to run, but the precise age of retirement depends on prevailing circumstances, both economic and political, if the two can ever be considered entirely separately. Indeed, the date to close Metsamor has been inched forward by varying increments at separate stages during the best part of the past twenty years. While the plant does continue to operate, the nuclear waste that it inevitably produces must be contained as securely as possible. As I have already noted, Armenia has deposits of zeolites weighing in to a reserve estimated at 500 million tonnes - materials which are pivotal to the safe management of nuclear waste, and hence are central in ensuring the safety of Metsamor during the remainder of its lifetime, and probably afterwards, once the plant is finally decommissioned.
It is a peculiar property of zeolites that they show a marked preference to absorb "heavy metal" cations over the lighter cations they contain naturally. Therefore, radioactive products of nuclear fission such as caesium-134 and 137 (Cs+) and strontium-90 (Sr2+) are readily ion-exchanged into naturally occurring zeolites, particularly clinoptilolite which comprises the majority of Armenian "Tuff" - the principal zeolitic mineral - by displacing the calcium (Ca2+) cations it contains in its native state as mined from the earth. Zeolites mined from the Noyemberyan region are particularly rich in calcium and are hence appropriate for application in sieving-out radionuclides from the dump-waters of nuclear power plants, thereby protecting the environment from radioactive contamination. As a post-dated strategy, a total of 500,000 tonnes of zeolites (some from Armenia) were used abortively in cleaning up inadvertently released radioactive contamination after the Chernobyl "accident" in 1986. I was working in "Russia" (then "Leningrad" now "St. Petersburg") in the weeks following, and was advised by a Russian Health Physicist: "Don't eat green. Eat meat!" I followed her advice and so presumably avoided ingesting contaminated vegetables, but instead survived on the flesh of animals who had either been killed before the incident, or had been fed zeolites in an effort to keep the radioactive cations out of their meat, patting it out benignly instead. I am now a vegetarian.
In conclusion, what will prevail post Metsamor? As a country with few options, how will Armenia provide for its fuel, and can it keep the lights on in the absence of nuclear power and without causing further ecological detriment? In part the prognosis is promising. A deal has been struck with Iran to build a 2.6 MW wind farm in northern Armenia. Admittedly, this falls shy of the 360 MW that Metsamor is presently outputting, but it's a start. The Armenian government reckons that to close Metsamor and substitute its output entirely from renewables would cost around $1 billion, which is rather more than the $0.1 billion the EU have on offer, but there are other aid packages potentially in the pipeline if they do go "non-nuclear". There are also plans to expand electricity production by hydro-electric power in a combined power/irrigation project that will involve diverting some of the rivers that flow into Lake Sevan. A further arrangement will bring natural gas into Armenia from Turkmenistan which has large gas reserves, and due to the Azerbaijani blockade this will have to be brought in via Iran, but a new road is being constructed for this purpose and in order to facilitate other commercial exchanges between Armenia and Iran. While this all sounds optimistic, there are renewed echoes of war emanating from Azerbaijan over the Nagorno Krabakh dispute - given their geography, perhaps the Azerbaijanis are feeling left out of the game.

Friday, January 13, 2006

A Hydrogen Economy - Is it Economic?

It is a popular misconception that hydrogen is a fuel. It is not. It is an "energy carrier", meaning that hydrogen must be generated using a primary fuel, and so can store some of that fuel's initial energy, albeit encountering energy losses along the way. On first glance, hydrogen appears as a holy grail to the green environmental cause. It is claimed to be a "clean fuel" (mindful that it is not in fact a fuel), since as used at source, the only product of its "combustion" is water - clean enough to drink as it drips out of the exhaust pipe of an "eco-car", powered by hydrogen as it combines with oxygen in a fuel cell. This mode of combustion is preferred to using hydrogen actually in an internal combustion engine, as the efficiency is greater, and more of the energy stored in hydrogen is thereby extracted from it in terms of "miles per gallon" of fuel. As I have already noted, hydrogen has to be made in the first instance, and the majority of world hydrogen - used mainly for industrial processes, including combination with nitrogen to make ammonia and hence artificial fertilizers - is produced from natural gas, by a process called "reforming".
One is reminded of the "reformation" of the monasteries, in that a new social order emerged from it - in the present context, to feed a rising population that currently stands at 6.5 billion, about 4 billion of whom would not be alive without the agency of synthetic fertilizers to feed them. To reform natural gas (methane), it is mixed with steam and blasted through a high temperature furnace, when it reacts according to the equation:

CH4 + 2H2O ---> CO2 + 4H2.

Therefore, the process still produces CO2 in contravention of the green dream, unless it is separated and "sequestered" in some way, itself an energy needful step, rather than being vented into the atmosphere. Actually, converting natural gas to hydrogen is worse in terms of CO2 emissions than simply burning it directly, since (fossil) fuel is required to heat the furnace and an overall 10% more CO2 is produced. Since carbon sequestration (pumping the gas underground into worked gas-wells or aquifers or liquifying it for disposal in the deep ocean) might consume up to 30% of the energy ultimately delivered from methane via conversion to hydrogen, we are perhaps 40% down on the deal overall.
Ideally, we want to avoid producing CO2, in order to cut our greenhouse gas emissions and so we would prefer not to use natural gas at all, since whichever way it is used, CO2 is an unavoidable end product. So, as an alternative, we need to consider how feasible it is to produce our hydrogen requirements using renewably generated electricity which can be used to manufacture hydrogen by the electrolysis of water. Now, this is clean. The process simply involves splitting water (H2O) into hydrogen and oxygen: 2H2O ---> 2H2 + O2. If the electrical energy required for this is produced, e.g. using wind-power, the whole process is sustainable since it uses a renewable source of energy, e.g. the wind, which will never run out, and it is perfectly clean ("green") both on the side of feedstock (H2O) and product (H2 + O2). The oxygen could be used to treat sewage effluent, for example, so overall electrolysis is environmentally benign, even though it is an energetically inefficient process compared to gas reforming, and loses 30% of the energy originally available in electricity; however, costing in CO2 sequestration, the two methods carry similar energy losses.
If we were to produce enough hydrogen to supplant all the hydrocarbon fuels currently used for transportation, how might we go about it? In other words, what scale of generating capacity would we need? To answer this it is perhaps helpful to look at some figures. The following refer to the U.K. only, for the year 2003:

Road Transport 42 Million Tonnes (oil equivalent)
Aviation 11.9 Million Tonnes (oil equivalent)
Rail 0.3 Million Tonnes (oil equivalent)
Total 54.2 Million Tonnes (oil equivalent).

I find it highly significant - and a real eye-opener - that just over one fifth (22%) of the total national fuel budget is taken by aviation, and that this amount is double the share this sector had in 1970. To arrive at some meaningful quantities, we need to convert the mass of fuel used into units of generating capacity in MW. So, here goes:

1 Tonne (eq) oil = 42 GJ; 1kWh = 3.6 MJ. Hence, 1 Tonne (eq) of oil = 11,667 kWh, and so 54.2 Mt of it = 6.32 x 10*11 kWh.

Now that is the amount used over a year = 8760 hours.
Therefore, 6.32 x 10*11/8760 = 7.21 x 10*7 kW = 7.21 x 10*4 MW = 72,100 MW.

Although we are principally concerned with renewables here, I shall consider nuclear too since it is often referred to as a potential source of electricity for hydrogen production, and how the capacity we have arrived at might be met by (i) nuclear in comparison with (ii) wind energy.

(i) Nuclear. Sizewell B is rated at 1188 MW of electricity generating power. Therefore, we would need 72,100/1188 = 61 new Sizewell B capacity reactors, and that is on top of the 30 or so new reactors we will need to replace those due for decommissioning by 2025. As I have commented previously, the uranium fuel required to fuel them is in finite supply and we can expect "peak uranium" at some point, beyond which more energy is used in milling and extracting the increasingly poor uranium ore than is got back in terms of it providing nuclear power. Thus, the 90 or so new nuclear reactors would need to be "Fast Breeders" which produce plutonium, then the available uranium fuel would last for hundreds of years. It would not secure security of supply, since uranium is imported from Canada now (and possibly from Australia or Kazakhstan in the future?), but it would curb our CO2 emissions significantly, mainly through the more efficient use of the uranium fuel, since the majority isotope (238) could be used rather than being a surplus waste product.
(ii) Wind Energy. Generating 72,100 MW of energy via wind turbines would require 72,100/0.2 = 360,000 MW at full capacity, where 0.2 is the "capacity factor", the amount of energy that could realistically be extracted from a wind turbine over time. This translates into 721,000 turbines rated at 0.5 MW, located on mainland sites or around 180,000 2 MW turbines situated on off-shore wind farms. The far taller (ca 80 meter high) structures required for 2 MW turbines, with their longer rotor blades would need to be located away from mainland sites as otherwise many people would find them objectionable - an eyesore, and noisy, if they lived close to them. It is not clear where so many 180,000 2 MW turbines might be situated around the coasts of these islands without them becoming an obstruction to shipping! Add into all of this daunting engineering feats, the construction of a vast infrastructure required to store, transport and supply hydrogen as a fuel, and the whole enterprise on any significant scale appears doomed. We could not implement anything on this scale in the short term ( by 2020, as is thought necessary to curb the U.K.'s CO2 emissions before it is catastrophically too late to prevent climate change), if ever. I call again that we limit our demands on transportation by acting as locally as possible, so cutting back on probably 90% of the current energy requirement for this sector which currently uses 25% of the nation's total energy budget to fuel it.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

The Stones that Boil - Nuclear Waste Management.

Nuclear energy is based on nuclear fission, a process in which a heavy nucleus such as that of uranium splits in two, releasing radioactive "fission products" of lighter nuclei. In most of the nuclear power plants in operation today, the heat generating unit is a pressurized water reactor (PWR). In this arrangement, the heat generated by nuclear fission in the reactor nuclear fuel [See Footnote] is removed by the "primary" coolant which is circulated in a closed primary circuit. Here, the pressure is sufficiently high to maintain the primary coolant (water) in liquid form at the operating temperatures employed. Heat is transferred from the primary circuit to the secondary circuit (also known as the "water-steam circuit") where steam is generated and is then directed at the steam turbine to generate electricity.
Originally, the PWR was designed for nuclear ship propulsion by the U.S. Navy. From its principle, in the 1950's Westinghouse started to develop civilian electricity generating units, the first of which was the Shipping-port 1 plant, a 90 MW PWR that started producing electricity in 1957. Modern PWR's produce anywhere up to 1400 MW. While different designs of PWR's exist, in respect to the production and properties of radionuclides ("fission products") the various designs are effectively similar, according to a common aim to confine the radionuclides safely and to keep both the occupational radiation exposures and radioactive emissions into the environment at a minimum very low, acceptable level.
The containment is not perfect, since minute cracks develop over time in the some 50 miles of piping used in the water circuits, and it is well known in the nuclear industry that all waters, whether used for cooling (heat transfer), cleaning, or for other applications will become radioactive to the level of constituting Intermediate Level Nuclear Waste (ILW). To simply dump this water into the environment - e.g. into the sea - is highly undesirable, and potentially dangerous. Therefore, some means for intercepting the radioactive ions it contains must be sought, and this is where a class of remarkable materials called "zeolites" makes their entrance.
The first identified zeolite was recorded in 1756 by the Swedish mineralogist, Cronstedt, who discovered that on heating the mineral the stones erupted into a froth of hot liquid and steam, lending the appearance that the stones themselves were boiling. Thus, he termed them "zeolite" which from Greek derivation means "stones that boil". The observation provides a hefty clue as to the unusual properties of zeolites, which are highly porous and are able to absorb large quantities of water and indeed other substances within an extensive microporous network. The micropores are of molecular dimensions, typically 13 A (1.3 nm), or less, and absorb substrates on a molecular scale. There are about 40 naturally occurring zeolites known and about another 150 or so that have been artificially synthesised. In current parlance, zeolites may appropriately be described as "nanomaterials". Thus, zeolites find a wide range of important applications e.g. as catalysts for use in the petrochemical industry; in the separation of air into oxygen and nitrogen; as molecular sieves, for use as drying agents and for the separation of hydrocarbons (e.g. para-xylene for polyester manufacture); and in ion-exchange.
The ability of a zeolite to perform ion-exchange rests upon its structure which consists of a negatively charged aluminosilicate framework, which is balanced by the presence of a number of positively charged metal cations (e.g. Na+, Ca2+, Mg2+, H+) equal to the total number of negative charges. It is the molecular structure of the framework that defines the nature and size of the micropores. If a vessel is packed with zeolite, and water containing different cations from those present in the zeolite is passed through it, an exchange can occur in which cations are absorbed from the water and simultaneously released from the zeolite. This process finds large scale application in industry, where Ca2+ and Mg2+ cations in "hard" water which block pipes in the form of "lime scale" can be absorbed into an initially Na+ containing zeolite, simultaneously releasing Na+ cations into e.g. cooling water where they can do no harm, so that it continues to flow unimpeded.
The principle is exactly the same for removing radioactive cations from effluent waters arising in the operation of a nuclear power plant. Major fission products are radioactive caesium (caesium 134 and caesium 137) and strontium 90 (which all of us have in our bones to some extent from testing nuclear weapons in the past, since it feeds into the biological calcium cycle). One naturally occurring zeolite called clinoptilolite has a specifically high affinity for caesium and strontium, and is present in a volcanic mineral known as "tuff". Tuff occurs in rich beds in various regions of the U.S. and in northern Armenia. Indeed, zeolites are generally associated with volcanism. Tuff may be processed and the resulting zeolite rich material packed into tanks for the purpose of filtering waste waters, such that the water which emerges from it is sufficiently low in radionuclides for sea disposal or even for agricultural purposes - an important feature in parts of the world such as Armenia, where water is at a premium, and otherwise the millions of gallons per year required to "cool" a nuclear power station would be wasted, as well as being a potential source of radioactive environmental contamination.
Once the zeolite is sufficiently "saturated" with Cs+ and Sr2+, it is removed from the tanks which hold it, for disposal and fresh zeolite is introduced. The radioactive zeolite may then be sintered (heated at 1200 - 1400 degrees C) to partly vitrify it (turn it into a glass) especially at the surfaces, which tends to lock-in the radioactive ions against any future radioactive exchange into the environment. The zeolite may also be dissipated into a boron containing glass or imbedded in concrete. In this way, the material is converted into "bricks" which can be removed for storage in a suitable repository.

PWR's fall into the category of Light Water Reactors (LWR), which use ordinary water both as a coolant and a moderator. Cooling and heat-transfer I have already described, but the action of a moderator is to slow down energetic neutrons. This is necessary since the fissile form of uranium, uranium 235 which occurs only to the extent of 0.7% in natural uranium, is most efficiently fissioned by absorbing a "slow" neutron. Since ordinary (light) water is only moderately effective in slowing neutrons, a fuel enriched (to about 3.5%) in uranium 235 is used in order that the operational flux of slow neutrons is sufficient to sustain a chain reaction. Naturally occurring uranium (without enrichment) can be used as a nuclear fuel in reactors that use "heavy water", which is more efficient as a moderator, but the former design using light water is generally preferred.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Global Warming - Myths and Facts.

Even the church of Global Warming is not without its heretics - those who claim that the iconic "hockey stick" profile of temperature over the past thousand years, which rises inexorably at the end of the millenium, is no more than a craven idol. This is a serious issue since it underpins the Kyoto protocol, which aims to cut emissions of CO2 into the atmosphere by reducing humankind's dependence on fossil fuels. Not all countries have signed-up for it yet - notably the United States whose economy George Bush claims would be destroyed were that nation to implement the Kyoto restrictions. The hockey stick curve formed the central basis of report on climate change by the IPCC (International Panel on Climate Change), upon which the Kyoto protocol is founded. The original hockey stick plot appeared in the prestigious journal "Nature" in a paper by Michael Mann, and referring to the hockey stick figure, the IPCC "Summary for Policymakers" claimed "it is likely that the 1990's has been the warmest decade and 1998 the warmest year of the millenium" for the Northern Hemisphere.
However, Stephen McIntyre and Ros McKitrick have now cast considerable doubt on the validity of the hockey stick fit to the data, and even of the data itself. In a 1995 report from the IPCC, there was no hockey stick. Rather, it showed an interval from ca 1000AD to 1300AD, known as the "Medieval Warm Period", during which many parts of the world were much warmer than they are today. This was followed by the "Little Ice Age" which extended to about 1900AD. It may be concluded thus that current temperatures are nothing special. In a detailed analysis, McIntyre and McKitrick show that an incorrect mathematical procedure was used by Mann, and it also appears that a selective choice and weighting of particular sets of data, based on tree ring measurements, was made.
When the data are re-evaluated, the hockey stick vanishes and the temperatures going back to 1400AD fluctuate around a baseline value, with no rapid rise at the end of the last century. It is further shown that the mathematical procedure used by Mann will generate a hockey stick even when applied to random noise, i.e. data without any trend. The re-analysis does show that the twentieth century was warmer than the previous 400 years, but it was hotter by about 0.2 degrees C from 1400 - 1450AD. Professor Richard Muller at Berkley University is quoted as saying, "[The findings] hit me like a bombshell, and I suspect it is having the same effect on many others. Suddenly the hockey stick, the poster-child of the global warming community, turns out to be an artefact of poor mathematics." This all has profound implications to global policy on climate change.
Dr Hendrik Tennekes, retired director of the Royal Meteorological Institute of the Netherlands has communicated: "The IPCC process is fatally flawed. The behaviour of Michael Mann is a disgrace to the profession... The scientific basis for the Kyoto protocol is grossly inadequate." Nonetheless, consensus of opinion reigns. John Houghton, a British expert who co-chairs the IPCC panel investigating climate change said his work involved between 600 and 700 scientists writing and reviewing about 5,000 papers. "That's a very large body of scientists," he said, and that "worldwide there were no more than 10 scientists active in the field and well-versed in the arguments who disagreed with the notion of human-induced climate change." Clearly, the vast majority of the scientific profession, including Sir David King, the U.K. government's Chief Scientific Advisor, are all singing from the same hymn sheet. Indeed, David King has commented famously that climate change is a greater threat than terrorism.
The mechanism of peer-review will doubtless militate against heretics and dissenters, who would find in the wake of disagreeing with the IPCC a lethal threat both to their funding and to their standing in the scientific community. Even were they to to show sufficient temerity to find evidence against anthropogenic global warming, publication of these results in mainstream journals would prove difficult, as the consolidated establishment would repel their papers.
But what is the truth? If it was warmer at around 1400AD, when a relatively modest population of perhaps half a billion (from the 6.5 billion it stands at today) burnt very little fossil fuels, what is the evidence that current global warming is all our fault? An interesting paper appeared recently in the Journal of Atmospheric and Solar-Terrestrial Physics (Volume 67, 2005, pages 1573 - 1579) which demonstrates a strong correlation between the output of the Sun and global temperatures. The implementation of Kyoto would enforce global economic hardship particularly in developing countries like India and China, while the U.S. will doubtless carry on doing as it likes - business as usual, so long as it can get hold of enough oil, gas and coal. If "Peak Oil" lurks around the corner, as I have written about previously, this might not be possible and there will be conflicts between nations such as China and America for its precious resource. Hockey sticks or otherwise, the world will need to look to Kyoto, or any other means to cut back on consumption, if we are to sustain the global human population at anywhere near our current number.